All-Star Game here next year will feature skills competition

February 13, 1996|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

The National Professional Soccer League's 10th All-Star Game, which the Spirit will stage here next year, will be spiced by the first "NPSL Super Skills Challenge."

The league's top players will compete in such events as power shooting measured by radar, shooting for accuracy up close and from a distance, dribbling around an obstacle course for time and head tennis, in which two-man teams try to keep a ball from dropping.

The events will be held Feb. 8 at 4 p.m. at the Baltimore Arena, with the All-Star Game on Feb. 9 at 2:05 p.m.

The old Baltimore Blast was the host for the Major Soccer League's All-Star Game in 1992, an event that drew 9,400 despite snow. After the season, the MSL folded.

Vaccaro in Spain

Goalie Cris Vaccaro was excused from last Friday's Spirit victory over the Tampa Bay Terror to go as a coach with Puerto Rico's national team to Spain for a series of games. He'll return before the Spirit's next game, Feb. 23 on the road against the Canton Invaders.

Joe Mallia picked up Friday's win, but drew a 2-minute, 42-second penalty that allowed rookie Jim McCombs to make his NPSL debut. McCombs stopped a Terror shootout, and Mallia returned after the ensuing power play.

Spirit drops Ross

The Spirit did not exercise its option to sign Gary Ross for the rest of the season after he filled in ably for injured players during two successive 15-day contract stretches. In 11 games, Ross had four goals and four assists.

The return of Jamie Christie and the impending return of Dave Vaudreuil and Barry Stitz should ease the Spirit's midfield problem stemming from injuries that led to the signing of Ross. Vaudreuil (abdominal wall repair surgery) will be back for the Feb. 23 game and Stitz (ankle) is probable.

Rebounding with Stankovic

In its first four games under coach Mike Stankovic, the Spirit has won three and lost the fourth by one point. It's too early to draw conclusions, of course, but Stitz and Jason Dieter, for two, see nothing but positive signs.

"The game against Tampa last Friday was our best all-around of the season," said Stitz, who has missed 13 games with a sprained ankle after playing in a club-record 90 straight. "A couple times we had played two or three strong quarters, but never four. Friday night we did. But it seems that with this team, whenever we get comfortable, we get clobbered, so it's early to say the change is permanent."

Dieter: "Our work rate has improved, and we're playing solid team defense. That's what matters. We're responding dramatically to Mike, although I can't explain why, except that we're working hard as a team."

Since Stankovic moved him to the target man position, Dieter has responded with three goals in the four games after scoring only five in the previous 24. All the while, he has been his customary strong presence on defense.

Before Stankovic took over, the Spirit was allowing an average of 13.9 points. In the four games since, the team has surrendered 25, trimming its yield to 12.8.

Miscellaneous

Detroit Rockers rookie forward Jason Willan was named NPSL Player of the Week after scoring 10 points on six goals in a 22-9 win over the Chicago Power. . . . The Spirit's Franklin McIntosh is 18 shy of becoming the first NPSL player to score 1,000 points. The Cleveland Crunch's Hector Marinaro is closest to him with 907. . . . The Harrisburg Heat's Scoop Stanisic made an All-Star Game-record 19 saves Sunday after the Crunch's Otto Orf had 13 in the first 30 minutes as the Nationals peppered the goal with 44 shots.

(NPSL standings, Page 8D)

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