CINCINNATI - The Baltimore Spirit appears playoff-ready.
The Spirit used a stellar defensive performance and dominated the second half en route to a 12-3 victory over the Cincinnati Silverbacks last night in a National Professional Soccer League game at Cincinnati Gardens.
"I'm very pleased with our effort tonight," said Spirit player/coach Mike Stankovic. "We were very good on defense and that created opportunities on offense. We were very concerned about giving up easy goals, something we did in our last game with Harrisburg."
The victory moved Baltimore (24-13) within one game of clinching second place in the American Division, which would give the Spirit home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Harrisburg Heat kept the Spirit from securing second place in the division by beating the first-place Crunch, 25-19, in Cleveland.
Still, with three games remaining in the regular season all on the road Stankovic is not overly concerned.
"I just want to develop good soccer and get 110 percent from my players," Stankovic said. "If that happens, good things will come. And if we keep playing like this, we should get home-field advantage."
The Silverbacks led 1-0 in the first quarter on a power-play goal by Shawn Medved.
Cincinnati's patient play on offense helped keep Baltimore scoreless for the game's first 12 minutes before a holding penalty against the Silverbacks' Nassim Olabi succeeded in giving the Spirit a lift.
Kevin Sloan's penalty kick tied the game with 2: 32 left in the opening quarter and Jason Maricle found the goal 13 seconds later to provide Baltimore with its first lead at 2-1.
Each team was able get a goal in the second period, and the Spirit went into intermission with a 4-3 advantage.
At halftime, Stankovic, who is now 11-2 since taking over as coach, reminded his players about their last trip to Cincinnati, in December, when the Silverbacks rallied from a 9-3 deficit to win, 14-11.
"We could not let down, no matter who we're playing," he said. "Cincinnati has an explosive offense and they have the capability of striking quickly."
Stankovic and Jamie Christie scored third-period goals to boost the Spirit's lead to 8-3, and its defense was able to maintain its stranglehold over the Silverbacks' offense.
Spirit goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro (13-4) recorded his eighth straight victory.
Spirit ... 2 2 4 4 12
Cincinnati 1 2 0 0 3
First quarter 1. Cin, Medued, 9: 23; 2. Spirit, Sloan, 12: 38; 3. Spirit, Maricle (Sloan), 12: 42. Penalties Spirit, Waricle (holding), 9: 23; Cin, Olabi (holding), 12: 42.
Second quarter 4. Cin, Thomas, 2 pt, 5: 10; 5. Spirit, Esposito (Maricle), 2 pt, 8: 44. Penalties Spirit, Warilce (tripping), 12: 18.
Third quarter 6. Spirit, Stankovic (McIntosh), 2 pt, 2: 05; 7. Spirit, Christie, 2 pt, 3: 46.
Fourth quarter 8. Spirit, McIntosh (Vaudreuil), 2 pt, 3: 58; 9. Spirit, Garvey (McIntosh), 2 pt, 12: 51.
Shots: Spirit 6-4-4-517; Cincinnati 2-4-4-212. Fouls: Spirit 2-2-4-513; Cincinnati 2-3-2-411. Saves: Spirit, Vaccaro 1-2-2-27; Cincinnati, Pelia, 4-3-0-29. Att: 238.
Pub Date: 3/16/96
Opponent: Tampa Bay Terror
Site: Bayfront Center, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Time: 8: 05
Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WASA (1330 AM)
Outlook: This will be the second game in two nights for the Spirit as it continues on its season-ending seven-game road trip. Baltimore has won four of the five meetings between the teams, including a 16-2 victory over the Terror when the teams last met, Feb. 19, at the Baltimore Arena. The Terror (12-25) is led by rookie Bojan Vuckovic, ranked eighth in the league in scoring with 139 points and third in goals with 62. Joe Mallia will start in goal for the Spirit. Mallia is 10-9 for the season with a 14.04 points-against average.