Players' strategy helps Spirit break hex, 17-8

February 05, 1994|By Budd Bailey | Budd Bailey,Contributing Writer

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Baltimore Spirit coach Kenny Cooper had tried all sorts of game plans in an effort to win here, and the result was four straight losses over two years. So last night, he let some of the players decide the strategy.

Cooper then watched the Spirit jump to a 6-0 lead at halftime and roll to a 17-8 victory over the Blizzard before 7,018 at Memorial Auditorium.

The Spirit -- which leads its series with Buffalo, 6-4 -- now holds a 4 1/2 -game lead over the Cleveland Crunch in the American Division of the National Professional Soccer League.

"That was a clinic, wasn't it?" Cooper said after the game, which was broadcast on ESPN2. "We had a team meeting today. [Rusty] Troy, [Cris] Vaccaro and [Paul] Wright felt we should play a certain way. Paul felt we should take the pressure, break out and make goals, and we did exactly that."

The Spirit players executed their game plan to perfection. It was particularly true in the first half, when the visitors sat back in a conservative defensive style, and then used their speed when they had a chance for three-on-two or two-on-one situations.

The Spirit's first goal came on a key play in the game. Baltimore's Tarik Walker took a pass in front of the penalty area with his back to the goal, made a quick spin move right and beat Buffalo goalie Jamie Swanner with a quick, hard shot.

The 2-0 margin represented the first time this season that Baltimore had led the Blizzard in Buffalo. The Blizzard jumped to 7-0 and 8-0 halftime leads in the other two games, and won them 9-4 and 14-2, respectively.

"Our problem is that we've had trouble scoring in this building," Walker said. "Getting the first goal let everyone know we could get some goals."

It was more of the same through the rest of the first half. Buffalo would control play most of the time, and Baltimore would counterattack when possible. Wright and Rob Ukrop scored two-pointers in the second period.

"The lead gave us a little bit of momentum," goalkeeper Vaccaro said. "We're playing away from home, so it doesn't matter how we play. We were very, very patient. As a defensive unit we played very well."

Walker took care of Buffalo hopes of any early second-half comeback, when he scored another beautiful goal four minutes into the third quarter. He cut from the right wing to the left side, beating two defenders in the process, and his shot beat Swanner just inside the far post.

Before Vaccaro and the Spirit had a chance to spend more than an idle thought on the first shutout in franchise history, Randy Pikuzinski put Buffalo on the scoreboard at the 5:01 mark of the third period.

Barry Stitz, Goran Hunjak and Doug Neely also scored for the Spirit. Buffalo outshot Baltimore 28-26, and Vaccaro had 11 saves.

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