Spirit starts NPSL season with major goal of a big finish

October 21, 1994|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

Dave MacWilliams got more than a contract when he became the Spirit's new coach. He also gat a mandate.

Owner Bill Stealey's directive: Produce a team that works hard, plays creative, team-oriented offense and doesn't peak until near season's end, ready to prosper in the playoffs.

MacWilliams and the team will plunge into the assignment when the Spirit opens its third National Professional Soccer League season tonight at 7:35 against the Chicago Power at Baltimore Arena.

Stealey said it irked him that the Spirit, in its two seasons under Kenny Cooper, won two American Division regular-season championships, only to lose each time in the first round of the playoffs to the Harrisburg Heat.

It irked him, too, that the offense didn't appear organized and that stars, such as Paul Wright and Goran Hunjak last season, always wanted the ball.

"Seeing stars fighting over the ball offends my military mind,said Stealey, a former Air Force jet fighter pilot. "I like to see teamwork. My mandate to Dave is for the team to be more offensive-minded, more organized when we get opportunities and to get good shots off set plays."

It pleased Stealey when MacWilliams, during his job interview, said every game shouldn't be treated "like the end of the world" and that the object was to be ready for the end of the season.

"You'd love to win 40 games, but realistically that's not going thappen," MacWilliams said. "We'll have ups and downs. We can't take every loss as the worst thing that could happen.

"We have to stay focused and mentally sharp for the long run. I think the players felt he [Cooper] made each game too much like life and death."

MacWilliams played under Cooper for five seasons with the Blast. Tim Wittman played under Cooper for 12 seasons, including the past two with the Spirit, and acknowledged that Cooper's approach was "do or die from the first scrimmage."

It was more of an observation than a criticism.

"As coach, president, general manager and salesman, Kenny felt the pressure, the burden, to win every game, or people would say he screwed up," Wittman said. "The do-or-die thing didn't affect me, but I think it did the young guys. They'd hang on his every word. Then, if they screwed up, they'd feel they should be off the team.

OC "They played not to make a mistake rather than to help the team.They were scared to play. They have to learn that they will lose and make mistakes and accept that."

In a month under MacWilliams, Wittman notices a more relaxed team. But is that necessarily good? "Is the intensity there, too?" Wittman said. "We'll see."

In response to the remarks by Wittman, MacWilliams anStealey, Cooper said: "They said the same the same thing about Earl Weaver. John Unitas, too. So I'm in good company. I'm intense -- I don't apologize for that. I lived and died with the Spirit. If some people were as serious about it as I was, maybe we would have won even more than we did."

In studying films of last season's playoffs, MacWilliams noticed that Wright and Hunjak "were taken out of the game." Harrisburg quickly dropped back on defense and crowded that end of the field, thereby nullifying Wright's speed and allowing neither Wright norHunjak room to work.

"I want everyone involved all season, so that they become used to the pressure of having to produce," MacWilliams said. "If you don't use guys, then suddenly expect them to score in the playoffs when the stars are taken out of the game, it's not fair."

It is with this approach that MacWilliams will attempt to carry out Stealey's mandate.

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