Without McIntosh, Spirit on defensive Harrisburg is foe as NPSL playoffs open

March 28, 1996|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Somewhere in Harrisburg, Pa. -- and perhaps even here in Baltimore -- someone may be working on a sign that will ask: "Where is Franklin McIntosh?"

One place he won't be is on the field at the Baltimore Arena tonight when the Spirit plays the Harrisburg Heat in the opening round of the National Professional Soccer League's American Division playoffs.

McIntosh, the league's all-time leading scorer, was suspended for the team' final two regular-season games because he missed practice. On Tuesday, player/coach Mike Stankovic extended the suspension through a three-game playoff series against Harrisburg.

"I had to make a decision that I think is best for the club and this was my decision and I'm not going to change it," said Stankovic, who assumed the team's coaching duties on Feb. 3. "Franklin is a big part of this club and he has played a big role in our success this year but he broke the rules and, unfortunately, I had to treat him like I would have treated anyone else."

McIntosh, 32, was on pace to become the Spirit's first 50-50 man, but his suspension will leave the league's assist leader (77) two goals shy of the mark.

McIntosh, a native of England who was acquired from the Heat last season for Tarik Walker and Steve Boardman, was suspended for one game in November for yelling obscenities at then-coach Dave MacWilliams.

Stankovic and his teammates said they don't think McIntosh's suspension will affect their chances.

"I've always said that one player is not going to beat you," said Stankovic, an All-Star defender who has guided the Spirit to a 12-4 record since being named coach. "If we play the way we can as a team, no one is going to beat us."

Spirit goalkeeper and assistant coach Cris Vaccaro likes his team's chances against the Heat, especially if the Spirit continues to hold its opponents to under 10 goals a game, which it has since Stankovic took over.

"We've been focusing on team defense and we've been successful by exercising responsibility, attitude and commitment," said Vaccaro (14-6). "Things happen and the rest of the players have to step up and make adjustments. We've done it before."

Kevin Sloan, the Spirit's second-leading scorer this season, said Saturday's 6-5 win over St. Louis is proof that Baltimore is capable of beating any team in the league, with or without McIntosh.

"If everyone steps up and does their part we can win, but it's going to take a collaborative group effort," said Sloan. "Sometimes it's easier when you're not relying on one player."

Baltimore defender Jason Dieter, one of three original members of the Spirit along with Vaccaro and Barry Stitz, has watched the Heat eliminate his team in the playoffs the last three years, but he doesn't see it happening again.

"We don't need any distractions. We have a job to do and we're going to go out and play as hard as we can," said Dieter. "If we keep playing hard team defense, it doesn't matter who we're playing. We'll go pretty far in the playoffs."

Spirit tonight

Opponent: Harrisburg Heat

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7:30

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

Outlook: The Spirit (25-15) has lost to the Heat in the NPSL's American Division semifinals the past three years. Baltimore clinched second place in its division and home-field advantage in the playoffs with Saturday's 6-5 win over St. Louis. The Heat (24-16, third place) won this year's regular-season series, 4-2. Harrisburg is on a five-game winning streak. Danny Kelly (140 points) leads the Heat in scoring and goalie Scoop Stanisic went 22-10 with an 11.52 points-allowed average. Baltimore is without leading scorer Franklin McIntosh (suspended).

Pub Date: 3/28/96

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