Spirit faces Crunch time in battle for 1st

March 09, 1994|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,Sun Staff Writer

The Baltimore Arena will be a welcome sight to the Spirit, BTC which is returning from an 0-3 road trip, its longest skid this season.

The Spirit (22-9) will face the Cleveland Crunch on Friday night with first place on the line in the National Professional Soccer League's American Division. Baltimore started the season 10-0 and has been in first place ever since.

The Crunch (21-10) had an opportunity to claim a share of the top spot Sunday, but remained a game back with an 18-15 loss to the Canton Invaders.

Spirit coach Kenny Cooper is looking at Friday's game as a "must-win" if the Spirit is to get the home-field advantage during the playoffs. After Friday's game, the Spirit will play six of its last eight regular-season games on the road.

"We're going to have to go at it like a seventh game of a championship series -- that's the mind-set," said Cooper, whose Spirit is 2-0 against the Crunch this season.

"It's the time of season when we just have to grind it out and finish what we've started. Cleveland is a game behind and they'll no doubt be ready to play. We're built on defense, and they are explosive on offense. We just need to buckle down and take the bull by the horns."

The Spirit's past three road losses all came against teams fighting to qualify for the playoffs.

The Dayton Dynamo (13-21) is 2 1/2 games back in pursuit of the fourth and final playoff spot in the American Division; the Harrisburg Heat (13-19) also is outside looking in, 1 1/2 games back; and the Wichita Wings (16-16) currently own the last playoff spot in the National Division. The three outscored the Spirit by a combined 74-45.

"Those teams are so dangerous because they are playing with playoff intensity," Cooper said.

Playoff spots clinched

Five teams have clinched berths in the NPSL playoffs that begin in April.

The Spirit and Crunch have qualified in the American Division. St. Louis (20-13), Detroit (20-14) and Milwaukee (18-14) are entries in the National Division.

The American Division is much clearer than the National. Wichita's magic number is two. The defending NPSL champion Kansas City Attack and the Chicago Power are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time.

In the American Division, Buffalo (17-17) and Canton (15-18) are in the third and fourth spots, with Harrisburg and Dayton still alive.

Miscellaneous

With his hat trick against Harrisburg on Saturday, Spirit forward Paul Wright set a local indoor soccer single-season record for goals (54). Wright surpassed teammate Goran Hunjak's output of 53 last season. . . . Detroit forward Drago was named NPSL Player of the Week. He had a pair of eight-point games in a split against Chicago over the weekend. After missing most of the past two seasons and the start of this season with knee injuries, Drago appears to have regained his past form, which saw him win the 1989-90 NPSL scoring title. . . . Friday's 7:05 p.m. showdown against Cleveland will be Youth Wristband Night. The first 3,000 fans under 16 will receive a free set of Spirit wristbands courtesy of Coca-Cola.

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