MacWilliams putting his stamp on Spirit

January 13, 1995|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

At midseason, it is clear that the Spirit is becoming an extension of coach Dave MacWilliams.

The Spirit is more aggressive than it was at the start, more tenacious, more willing to play team defense. When he was a player, MacWilliams was the embodiment of those soccer qualities.

As his team plunges into the second half of its National Professional Soccer League season with tonight's road game against the Buffalo Blizzard, MacWilliams says he has seen marked improvement during the past three months.

"Although there's always room for more improvement, I'm satisfied with what we've accomplished in the first half," MacWilliams said. "We were winning with individual efforts at the start, but lately we've been winning as a team."

With its 13-7 record, the Spirit is second in the American Division, one game behind the Cleveland Crunch. If it maintains that pace, it would finish 26-14, just as last year's team did.

The 1993-94 Spirit, however, reached 26-14 in a different way, bolting to a 17-3 start before going 9-11 in the second half. It got bumped from the playoffs in the first round by the Harrisburg Heat.

"We have to build on this and be more consistent in the second half," MacWilliams said. "We still haven't put together a full 60 minutes. Against Harrisburg last month we were up 9-6 but got caught up in their run-and-gun for five or six minutes at the end of the first half and let them get back in the game. We were fortunate to win it.

"We have to stay within the system, stay disciplined. When the playoffs come, we want to be focused on the same page and not losing our discipline on occasion."

The Spirit started the season with 11 new players as well as a new coach. There have been significant personnel moves since, notably the addition of Brad Smith, Omid Namazi and Franklin McIntosh.

Smith, No. 5 on the team with 41 points, has proved to be a sturdy post-up forward who can score. Namazi's genius for defense has permeated the team. McIntosh, the NPSL's all-time points leader, is a masterful playmaker, probably second only in the league to the Cleveland Crunch's Zoran Karic.

Although he has played in only eight games, McIntosh is tied for the team assists lead at 21 with Kevin Sloan, who has played in all 20 games. McIntosh is the Spirit's fourth-leading scorer with 43 points.

"One key is the development of chemistry," MacWilliams said. "Another is the changes we've made. The players have come from different systems and it takes time to adjust. We have to stay focused on team defense. It takes time."

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