Blizzard aims to end Arena hex

January 07, 1994|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

A question arises as the Spirit and the Buffalo Blizzard brace for another round in their National Professional Soccer League rivalry.

Which team will be the first to beat the other on the road?

As the series approaches the midway point of its second season, Buffalo is 0-4 at the Baltimore Arena. The Spirit is 0-4 at Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium.

Next round: Tonight at 7:30 at the Baltimore Arena.

Embarrassment has punctuated the series this season. In the first meeting, early last month here, the Spirit romped, 17-3. The last two games were in Buffalo, where the Blizzard won, 9-4, and then, last Sunday, by 14-2.

In that last one, only a two-point goal by Dan O'Keefe with 16 seconds left averted a shutout. It was the Spirit's worst loss this season and its fewest points in one game in its two-year history.

"The 14-2 wasn't a payback for the 17-3, but it almost was," the Blizzard's Ralph Black said.

"It would have been a lot better if we had gotten the shutout," Black said.

Black, who played for the Blast in the early 1980s, arrives here as the Blizzard's No. 5 scorer with 28 points. He had one goal Sunday.

"We played really well, and for the Spirit to stand a chance, they would have had to match it," Black said. "They didn't match it.

"But it was only one game. Now we play in Baltimore, where we haven't won. If it's close after the third quarter, we'll have a chance, but even so it will be hard. I know Kenny will have them fired up."

Spirit coach Kenny Cooper indeed intends to have his players fired up. He knows how inspired the Blizzard was going into Sunday's game after it had dropped two straight, to the Milwaukee Wave and Dayton Dynamo, surrendering 34 points.

"A couple of losses like that can be a great motivator and bring a team together," Cooper said. "As embarrassed as they were by the 17-3 game, we were just as embarrassed by the 14-2."

Arena size appears to be a factor in each team's superiority at home. Overall, the Blizzard is 7-2 in Buffalo and the Spirit is 8-1 here. The playing field in Buffalo is 200 by 85 feet to the Baltimore Arena's 182 by 73.

"A team is more comfortable in its own surroundings and knows the turf better," Buffalo coach Trevor Dawkins said. "In Baltimore, it's only a few touches from the halfway line to shooting range. In our place, it's another 30 or 40 feet."

Said Black, "Field size is a factor. It's a big advantage to the home team."

The Spirit's Jason Dieter won't accept that as an explanation for Sunday's rout, however.

"No excuse," he said. "Big field or little, we can win anywhere. We just need intensity."

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