The Cleveland Crunch took it upon itself to reduce the NPSL's American Division to a two-team race.
Cleveland's sweep of a home-and-home series against the Buffalo Blizzard over the weekend dropped Buffalo seven games behind the division-leading Spirit and four behind the second-place Crunch. The Blizzard has 13 games left in the 40-game season.
The Spirit missed a chance to increase its lead when, after edging the Dayton Dynamo here Saturday night, it lost to the Dynamo on Sunday in Dayton, 26-20. The defeat left the Spirit's road record at 6-4, best in the league.
At Dayton, the Spirit fell behind 9-1 but inched within 19-18 with 9:32 remaining. With 7:18 left, the Spirit was still only two behind, but Dennis Brose's one-point shootout and Tony Bono's three-pointer wrapped it up for Dayton.
It was the Spirit's first game at the new Dayton Convention Center, a magnificent facility that apparently takes some getting used to by opponents. The Plexiglas walls that enclose the field come down to the floor, creating illusions for players unfamiliar with it.
"It was like playing in a giant goldfish bowl," Spirit coach Kenny Cooper said. "It takes forever to adjust. The fans are on top of you, the ceiling is low and players tend to lose the ball because of the Plexiglas at the bottom of the wall. You think the ball is going into the crowd, but it's still in play."
Cris Vaccaro, the NPSL's top-rated goalie, absorbed the loss, trimming his record to 18-3. He played 36 minutes and allowed 14 points. His sub, Shawn Boehmcke, making his first appearance since Jan. 2, played 19 minutes.
"We took Cris out for a while because Dayton made a couple of runs at him, coming in late after a shot and making contact with him," Cooper said. "Teams do that sometimes in hopes of knocking a top goalie out of the game. We didn't want to take any chances of an injury. We put Cris back in when things settled down and he played well."
Goran Hunjak and Clark Brisson each had a hat trick and Paul Wright had a three-point goal and two assists, giving him 30 points in the past five games. But the Spirit couldn't contain Dayton, surrendering a season-high 26 points. It was the first time in the club's two-year history that it scored 20 or more points and lost.
King passes 100 mark
Former Spirit player Michael King became the sixth player in Milwaukee Wave history to score 100 points in a season in the course of his flurry of seven in Saturday's win over the Detroit Rockers.
King's season with the Spirit last year ended abruptly when he suffered a knee injury requiring major surgery. The Spirit will encounter King, No. 6 in the NPSL with 109 points, on its visit to Milwaukee Friday.
Spirit player-assistant coach Mike Stankovic aggravated a groin strain Saturday, missed Sunday's Dayton game and is questionable for Friday's at Milwaukee. . . . The Spirit's inaugural game was in Milwaukee on Nov. 6, 1992; rookie Barry Stitz scored the first goal. . . . The Milwaukee game will be the Spirit's third on ESPN2 this season. . . . The Dynamo ended Tarik Walker's points streak at nine games Sunday. . . . Wright needs three points to reach 100 this season; he got his 200th career point in Dayton. . . . Another game like Sunday's, when he had eight points, and Hunjak also will hit the 200 career mark; he has 196. . . . The Harrisburg Heat's 18-16, double-overtime victory over the Kansas City Attack was the fourth longest (78 minutes, 52 seconds) in NPSL history. K.C. blew leads of 11-0 and 16-10.