In Spirit's league, there's all-star without the break

February 22, 1994|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

The seventh annual NPSL All-Star Game tonight in St. Louis is the beginning of the league's busiest week of the season.

Seven of the league's 12 teams will complete three-games-in-three-nights stretches by weekend's end. In the space of six days, there will be 18 games, including the All-Star.

The Spirit's three-in-three opens with home games Friday and Saturday against the Wichita Wings and St. Louis Ambush, respectively, and ends with Sunday's game at Dayton.

The Spirit has a two-game edge over the Cleveland Crunch in the American Division but will play nine of its last 14 on the road. Cleveland has eight of its last 14 at home.

"The schedule favors Cleveland, so they'll make a run at us, which is good," Spirit coach Kenny Cooper said.

Cleveland has won four straight, three without NPSL scoring leader Zoran Karic (strained groin). The Spirit and Crunch play two more times, March 11 and 25.

The Spirit's All-Star participants are team scoring leader Paul Wright, the league's top-rated goalie, Cris Vaccaro, both on the first team, and defender Doug Neely, on the second team. With 101 points, No. 7 in the NPSL, Wright is the fourth player in Spirit history to reach 100. Goran Hunjak, Rusty Troy and Joe Koziol had 100-plus last season.

Cooper in England

Cooper is in Blackpool, England,this week to visit his father, Joseph, 82, terminally ill with leukemia. He expects to return Thursday.

In his absence, assistant coach Mike Stankovic will conduct practice today and tomorrow after three off days in the wake of Friday's road loss to the Milwaukee Wave.

Troy, who missed the Milwaukee game with aching knees, and Dan O'Keefe (stiff knee) are expected to play Friday.

Karic looms as MVP

At the All-Star break, or almost to the three-quarter pole in the division races, Karic is the clear choice as NPSL MVP. With 175 points, he is 28 ahead of defending scoring champion and teammate Hector Marinaro and a threat to break Marinaro's NPSL record of 248 last season. Vaccaro and David Doyle, who tops National Division-leading St. Louis in scoring, also are candidates.

Coach of the Year? Cooper, for one, plus Daryl Doran, player-coach of surprise division leader St. Louis, and Keith Tozer, whose Wave has 16 wins, only one under last season's total. The Spirit's Tarik Walker and the Ambush's Kevin Groark, each with 45 points, are the early leaders for Rookie of the Year.

Miscellaneous

The All-Star Game will be shown by ESPN on a tape-delay basis starting at 12:30 tonight. . . . Marinaro was named Player of the Week for the second straight time after scoring seven goals in leading Cleveland to its fourth straight win and putting it within two games of American Division leader Baltimore. Marinaro, who had an NPSL-record 100 goals last season, leads the league with 64. . . . After 166 games, NPSL attendance is averaging 5,495, an increase of 724 over last year, when the final figure was a league-record 5,213. . . . The first 3,000 fans Friday night will receive Spirit rally towels. The first 3,000 Saturday will get Spirit team posters.

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