To clinch 2nd place, Spirit needs to win 1 of 2 or hope for Heat loss

March 19, 1996|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

With one week remaining in the National Professional Soccer League regular season, the race for second place in the American Division continues to be tight.

Coming down the stretch, the Spirit has the inside track. Baltimore needs to win one of its last two games or the Harrisburg Heat to lose one of its remaining two to clinch second place and home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Spirit (24-14) split a pair of road games this weekend, downing the Cincinnati Silverbacks, 12-3, on Friday before losing to the Tampa Bay Terror, 21-14, on Saturday.

The Heat (22-16) kept its second-place hopes alive by sweeping a home-and-home series from the first-place Cleveland Crunch. If Baltimore and Harrisburg finish the regular season with identical records, the Heat would be awarded the runner-up spot for winning the season series with the Spirit, 4-2.

"It's important for us to finish the season strong because St. Louis and Kansas City are both teams that we could run into in the finals," said Spirit attackman Jason Dieter, who missed last weekend's games because of a sore hamstring. "These are two teams that will show you what kind of team you really have.

"From a confidence standpoint, these last two games are huge."

The Heat, a team that has eliminated the Spirit from the playoffs the past three seasons, has the luxury of playing its last two games at home. Harrisburg finishes its regular season by playing host to first-year Tampa Bay (14-25) and Buffalo.

The Spirit visits the heartland this weekend to take on the defending NPSL champion St. Louis Ambush and the Kansas City Attack (30-8), a team that is in first place in the National Division and riding a five-game winning streak.

"I've been around here for three years and each year we've pulled the same thing in the playoffs," said Dieter. "Each year, Harrisburg came out much harder and wanted it much more than we did. We have to focus on playing hard soccer and we have to match their work rate."

McIntosh shoots for 50-50

Baltimore midfielder Franklin McIntosh, who sits atop the NPSL's all-time scoring list with 1,030 career points, needs just two more goals to become the first player in Spirit history to record 50 goals and 50 assists in the same season.

McIntosh enters this weekend's games with 48 goals and a league-high 77 assists. He ranks third in the NPSL in points with 177.

Spirit reaches 100 wins

Baltimore's 12-3 win Friday in Cincinnati was the Spirit's 100th regular-season victory. The only other team in the league with more regular-season wins than the Spirit is the Crunch with 109.

Marinaro nears 1,000 points

Hector Marinaro of Cleveland is one point away from reaching the 1,000-point mark in his career.

Marinaro, who recently became the first player in NPSL history to score 400 regular-season goals in a career, has 999 points in only 139 games heading into Saturday's matchup at Milwaukee.

The native of Canada has 95 goals and is trying to record 100 for the third time in four years. Last year he scored 99 goals.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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