Crunch gives foes 1-2 punch

November 25, 1994|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

The problem is league-wide. No one in the National Professional Soccer League has devised a way to stop the Cleveland Crunch's one-two scoring punch.

Contain Zoran Karic and Hector Marinaro? Sometimes. Stop them? No.

Karic, the league MVP and scoring champion, and Marinaro, who had 100-plus goals for the second straight year, led Cleveland to the NPSL championship last season.

Nothing in the new season suggests they have lost their touch. As the Spirit awaits its game against the Crunch tonight in Cleveland, Karic appears on his way to another scoring title with 52 points in six games.

Marinaro, though he has missed the past five games with a thigh injury, has 21 points in only two games. He is scheduled to return to the lineup for tonight's game matching the American Division's top teams -- Cleveland with its 6-1 record and the Spirit with its 7-2.

"You try not to foul them around the goal, because that gives them a free kick and they score a lot off that," the Spirit's Barry Stitz said. "There's no way to stop them in that close.

"Another thing we try to do is get back as quickly as possible after we lose possession to cut down the space Karic has to work in."

As an offensive player himself, Jon Parry, with 31 points in six games, doesn't have to be overly concerned with trying to contain Karic and Marinaro. He marvels at the "tremendous one-on-one ability" of Karic in particular.

"He's a cherry picker, hanging around midfield waiting for Otto [Orf, Crunch goalie] to get him the ball, and you have to honor that," Parry said. "Otto, with his great arm, can put the ball right on Karic's foot in stride. So you always have to have someone back there with him, which takes one man out of your offense."

In its only game against Cleveland this season, the Spirit beat the Crunch for the sixth straight time, 18-17, on Kevin Sloan's one-point shootout goal with 24 seconds remaining. Karic had six goals that night, matching his career high, and 12 points. The injured Marinaro sat out.

The Crunch has so much talent that it can win even without Marinaro and Karic. Sunday, while Karic served a one-game suspension after being ejected from the previous game for four misconduct penalties in the fourth quarter, Cleveland played for the first time in its history without the two gunners but won anyway, 21-15, over the Kansas City Attack.

The Spirit's Brad Smith expects a hostile reception at the Cleveland State University Convocation Center. When he was playing for the Dayton Dynamo, Smith was in a collision along the boards that sent a Cleveland player in for knee surgery.

"I was just going for the ball, but the owner and fans pointed the finger at me, thinking I did it on purpose," Smith said. "The officials didn't, or I would have been fined or suspended."

The incident occurred in Dayton. On the Dynamo's next trip to Cleveland, Smith was, he recalls, "harshly booed."

SPIRIT TONIGHT

Opponent: Cleveland Crunch

Site: Cleveland State Convocation Center

Time: 7:05

TV: ESPN2

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

Outlook: This is the first of back-to-back road games for the Spirit, with a visit to the Harrisburg Heat scheduled tomorrow night. The Spirit (7-2) can move into first place in the National Professional Soccer League's American Division with a victory over the Crunch (6-1). The Spirit has won two straight, the Crunch three. Cris Vaccaro, who missed the past six games with a pulled hamstring, is likely to be back in goal. The Spirit, led by Kevin Sloan (50 points), Jon Parry (31) and Tim Wittman (25), leads the league in points (143). Cleveland, led by Zoran Karic and Hector Marinaro, has 123 in two fewer games.

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