Spirit gets healthy for road trip Most of unit is ready for Cleveland, Chicago

November 17, 1995|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

This weekend, for the first time, Spirit coach Dave MacWilliams finally will get to see the team he and general manager Drew Forrester assembled.

Through the first four games, key players were out with injuries. Goalie Cris Vaccaro, forward Brad Smith and defender Omid Namazi missed the first three games and defender Mike Stankovic and forward Pete Schneiders missed last week's against the Harrisburg Heat.

"We're fortunate to be 3-1 with the injuries we've had," MacWilliams said.

When the Spirit visits the Cleveland Crunch tonight and travels to Philadelphia to play the Chicago Power tomorrow night, it will have its healthiest group of the season. Stankovic (groin strain) and Bobby Joe Esposito (tendinitis in hip) are probable and only Schneiders is doubtful.

Cleveland, undefeated at 6-0, has won more regular-season games (84) over the past three-plus seasons than any team in the National Professional Soccer League, six more than the runner-up Spirit. Chicago, though 0-2, appears improved over last season when it finished 6-34.

"The Power was up 7-3 with eight minutes left against [defending NPSL champion] St. Louis and lost in overtime," Forrester said. "Both losses have been on the road, the other at Buffalo. They're much stronger this season."

Last season at this point, after losing to Cleveland and the Harrisburg Heat, the Spirit felt the need for another midfielder, and in early December acquired Franklin McIntosh. The club feels no such need now.

"When we put this team together, we had depth and versatility in mind," MacWilliams said. "If someone isn't playing well, another guy can step in. But with three guys injured at the same time, it cuts down on what you can do."

This is an ideal time, MacWilliams says, for the Spirit to establish itself on the road. Last Saturday, in its first away game of the season, at Harrisburg, he said the team acted as if it "had never played together."

It's not that pieces are missing. The Spirit's need is consistency and teamwork, to avoid stretches such as the one in Harrisburg when it was behind 12-4 entering the fourth quarter.

"We've got the tools," said midfielder Zak Ibsen. "We can't play every game perfectly, but we've got to know what to do when the chips are down, like in Harrisburg. "

Spirit tonight

Opponent: Cleveland Crunch

Site: Cleveland State University Convocation Center

Time: 7:35

Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WASA (1330 AM)

Outlook: Cleveland (6-0) is the only unbeaten team in the National Professional Soccer League after coming from behind to edge the expansion Tampa Bay Terror, 23-22, Saturday. The Spirit won its first three, then lost on the road to the Harrisburg Heat. The league's top four scorers will be on display: Cleveland's Hector Marinaro (30 points), Doug Miller (23) and Zoran Karic (23) and the Spirit's Franklin McIntosh (23). The Crunch's Otto Orf leads NPSL goalies with six wins. Joe Mallia will open in goal for the Spirit and Cris Vaccaro will start tomorrow against the Chicago Power in Philadelphia.

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