Spirit looks to prevent letdown

March 29, 1994|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

The Spirit's approach to tonight's meeting with the Buffalo Blizzard at Baltimore Arena will be unlike that for any other game this season.

With its second straight NPSL American Division title clinched, the Spirit, for the first time, isn't playing for a title or home field in the playoffs. However, coach Kenny Cooper doesn't want anyone to consider taking a night off.

"Guys have bumps, bruises and strains, so some won't play as much as if it were a playoff game," Cooper said. "But we can't relax; we want to be competitive. We need momentum entering the playoffs."

After tonight, the team has two regular-season games left. Its first-round opponent will be the fourth-place finisher, probably the Canton Invaders or the Harrisburg Heat, both 17-21. If Canton and Harrisburg finish the regular season tied, the Heat will advance by virtue of its 3-1 season-series edge over the Invaders.

The Spirit will open the playoffs on the road on a date to be determined, followed by Game 2 on April 9 and Game 3, if necessary, April 11, both at the Arena.

Cooper will decide today whether to start Cris Vaccaro or rookie Shawn Boehmcke in the goal. Vaccaro, a 14-year pro, matched his career high for wins in one season with No. 23 Friday in Cleveland, but is hampered by a slightly pulled hamstring.

"We want to try to get two goalies ready for the playoffs," Cooper said.

Wright shattering records

Paul Wright has broken or tied eight Spirit records, most recently Goran Hunjak's points in a season mark of 141 last year. Wright has 146 and is three shy of Hunjak's assists record of 46. Hunjak is one point away from his second straight 100-point season.

With 30 goals and 73 points, Tarik Walker has broken a pair of Barry Stitz's Spirit rookie records. Walker had a big weekend with 11 points against the Cleveland Crunch and the St. Louis Ambush, including his first hat trick.

Walker and the club's other top rookies, Rob Ukrop and Lance Johnson, have combined for 119 points.

Miscellaneous

Harrisburg goalie Brett Phillips, NPSL Rookie of the Year last season, was named Player of the Week after stopping 34 shots in road wins over the Dayton Dynamo and Detroit Rockers. . . . Cleveland's Zoran Karic and Hector Marinaro, one-two in the NPSL points race, have combined for a staggering 505 points, 212 more than the next most prolific teammates, David Doyle and Mark Moser of St. Louis. With 260 points, Karic has broken Marinaro's 1992-93 points record of 248. Marinaro has surpassed by nine his own goals mark of 100.

SPIRIT TONIGHT

Opponent: Buffalo Blizzard

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 6:35

TV: None

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

Tickets: Many available

Outlook: This is the makeup of the iced-out game Feb. 11 and the Spirit's first home game since March 11 after five in a row on the road. The Spirit has clinched its second straight National Professional Soccer League's American Division championship and the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Its first-round opponent is likely to be either the Canton Invaders or the Harrisburg Heat. Buffalo is virtually assured of the third playoff spot. The Spirit's Joe Koziol is expected to be out another week with a pulled hamstring and rookie Lance Johnson is questionable tonight with a strained groin. The first 2,000 fans 16 and under will receive free NPSL balls. The Famous Chicken will perform.

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