Spirit returns home just in time

March 11, 1994|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,Contributing Writer

The Spirit is happy to be home.

Four straight road losses will make any indoor soccer team homesick, especially in March, when the National Professional Soccer League stages its version of the pennant race.

The Spirit (22-9), which has lost only one home game this season, leads the second-place Cleveland Crunch (21-10) by one game heading into their game tonight at the Baltimore Arena.

A Spirit victory would help alleviate some of the pressure the team will face as it plays six of its final nine games outside of the Arena.

Spirit coach Kenny Cooper said his team needs to win a minimum of six more games to win its division, which means it will have to win at least three on the road.

"There's no place like home, but to be a championship contender you have to win on the road, it's as simple as that," Cooper said. The Spirit played 14 of its first 20 games at home, and 14 of its final 20 are on the road. "Playing at home can give you a false sense of security. When you're on the road, you've got to steal games, and now is the time to see what we're made of."

After tonight's game, the Spirit begins a four-city tour with stops in Milwaukee, Kansas City, Detroit and Cleveland. Baltimore has clinched a playoff spot, but by winning the division the Spirit would get home-field advantage in the playoffs.

"We have to look at this from a revenue standpoint as well, because there's money to be made by playing at home," said Cooper, who also serves as the Spirit's president and general manager. "I enjoy playing on the road because it's a great challenge, and you really have to dig down to win. We've been losing to teams who are battling for the those last couple of playoff spots, and they're fighting for survival."

The Spirit players have had five days to try and figure why they've given up 50 points in the past two games. Forward Paul Wright, who set a Baltimore indoor soccer league record for goals in a season (54) in Saturday's 20-14 loss to Harrisburg, attributes the Spirit's recent slump to inexperience.

"We hit a little bit of a wall there," Wright said. "It's a different sort of game on the road, and we have a lot of young guys who still don't know how to play on the road. We don't want to get that snowball effect going where, when we're on the road, we start thinking we have no chance of winning. We have to avoid that."

Cooper has put his players through two practices a day this week, he said, in hopes of building their stamina and reducing mistakes.

"If we win our next two games, we're back in the driver's seat and we can cruise into the playoffs," Wright said. "I think we'll surprise some people when we go back on the road."

SPIRIT TONIGHT

Opponent: Cleveland Crunch

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7:35

TV: ESPN2

3Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WAMD (970 AM)

Tickets: About 3,000 remain

Outlook: The Spirit (22-9), which has lost its past three games as well as its past four games on the road, has a 2-0 lead in this season's series with the Crunch (21-10), and a win tonight would clinch the season series. The Spirit needs to get back on track defensively after yielding a franchise-record 30 points in a 30-20 loss to the Wichita Wings last Friday and 20 points in Saturday's 20-14 loss at Harrisburg.

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