Harrisburg takes 'biggest' win over Spirit, 17-12 Heat moves into second in American Division

January 07, 1996|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

Beforehand, Spirit coach Dave MacWilliams called it the "biggest game of the year so far."

Harrisburg Heat coach Jim Pollihan, never known for overstatement, reckoned it was pretty important, too.

"All our games against Baltimore are important," Pollihan said, "this one especially because of how close we are in the standings."

Packed in behind the Cleveland Crunch, the National Professional Soccer League's runaway American Division leader, the Spirit and Heat are battling the Buffalo Blizzard for second place.

Harrisburg's 17-12 victory over the Spirit last night before 4,247 at Baltimore Arena enabled the Heat to climb over Baltimore into second place. Harrisburg is 13-7 (.650), while Baltimore and Buffalo are 11-6 (.647). Buffalo defeated the Cincinnati Silverbacks, 12-3, last night.

Afterward, MacWilliams was grim. The Spirit squandered a 12-9 third-quarter lead and let Harrisburg score the final four goals.

"Harrisburg has the will to win," MacWilliams said. "At crunch time, they're the better team. We might need to make some changes -- trades, whatever. We can't stay pat."

Why was the game so important? After playing three times in 15 days, Harrisburg has a 3-2 edge in the season rivalry. The teams will play only once more during the regular season, March 9 at Harrisburg.

"The deciding game will be in our building," Pollihan said. Referring to the Spirit's 26-9 rout of the Heat here two weeks ago, Pollihan added, "Tonight, we wanted to make amends for not showing up two weeks ago."

Harrisburg's win will put the pressure on the Spirit on March 9. Last year, the teams tied in the series 3-3, but the Heat got the home-field advantage for the playoffs based on goal differential.

Noting that Harrisburg was coming off an overtime win on the road against the Canton Invaders, the Spirit's Omid Namazi said: "Considering they played the night before, we should have buried them. We're at the point where we're flat. We made mental mistakes at the end of the game and gave up some goals because of that."

Harrisburg's Domenic Mobilio and Baltimore's Kevin Sloan led their respective teams with three goals apiece.

But Danny Kelly is Harrisburg's bellwether. In the two games Harrisburg lost to Baltimore, Kelly the playmaker was

out, injured. In the three wins, he has played significant roles. On the season, Harrisburg is 12-3 with Kelly, 1-4 without him. Kelly has scored at least one point in each of his 15 games.

After the Spirit took a 4-0 first-quarter lead, the Heat got seven unanswered points, including a one-point power-play goal by Mobilio, his league-leading ninth.

NOTES: The overtime triumph over the Canton Invaders on Friday night was the Heat's 100th regular-season win in its four-plus seasons in the NPSL. . . . Last night's game marked the Spirit debut of Ross and Matt Ruopp, signed Friday as reinforcements in the wake of injuries. Ross started because three regular midfielders are hurt -- Barry Stitz, Dave Vaudreuil and Jamie Christie. Vaudreuil (stomach muscle), Stitz (ankle), Christie (hamstring) and Bobby Joe Esposito (hip) missed the game. So did Harrisburg's Mark Pulisic (calf tear) and Chris Kelly (hernia). . . . Cris Vaccaro made his sixth start in goal for the Spirit and first since Dec. 27 against the Cincinnati Silverbacks, when he departed in the fourth quarter because of back spasms. He has missed four scheduled starts because of sickness or injury. . . . The Spirit's next game is Friday here against the Blizzard. . . . The Heat's Sloan and Franklin McIntosh are chasing ex-Spirit Goran Hunjak's club record of 247 career points. Sloan has 234, McIntosh 202. Ex-Spirit Tim Wittman is third with 207.

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