'Comfortable' Spirit looks for equalizer Hopes warmth of home sends it back to Cleveland

April 13, 1996|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

The second in a series of one-game win streaks planned by the Spirit unfolds at 7: 30 tonight at the "House of Gain," often referred to as the Baltimore Arena.

The House of Gain reference is used because the Spirit won 15 of 20 games on the Arena rug during the regular season and has won two straight during the playoffs. "No question we're more comfortable here," said coach Mike Stankovic.

Comfort isn't the only thing the Spirit is feeling going into the "do or disappear" game, which is single elimination for the home team since the Cleveland Crunch leads the best-of-five American Division final 2-1.

"Tell you one thing," said the coach, "we won't lose due to lack of discipline, desire or preparation. I think all the guys are confident."

Even before Baltimore started as if shot out of a cannon Tuesday night, and had Cleveland staked to the carpet with a 13-0 lead in the first 20 minutes of play, Spirit players hadn't lost faith despite their gaping deficit resulting from back-to-back losses in Cleveland.

"We've come so far this year and a lot of it is the players' acceptance and understanding of the fact that they have a job to do. And if they do their jobs, we won't lose," said Stankovic.

The man isn't saying he commands the greatest collection of indoor soccer players ever assembled and defeat is out of the question. "We can lose," he said, "but if we play right it will be a case of the other team being better and beating us, not us losing."

Usually, it's not that fine a distinction.

In the overtime loss in Cleveland on Sunday, for example, the Spirit lost when a corner kick somehow caromed into the net off the back of Stankovic's foot. "That was disappointing, not disheartening," the coach said.

His words proved prophetic a few nights later when the team got off to a start teams and fans dream about. While the Spirit started out at 78 rpm, Cleveland was trying to stay in it at 33 1/3 rpm.

"But that will have nothing to do with the next game. Cleveland's too good. [It] didn't come this far not to play its best game every time out," said Stankovic. "It all comes down to the changing circumstances.

"The Crunch plays a different game than us. [They] take a few more chances because of the scoring talent they have. Them taking chances leads to us getting chances; and, if you don't capitalize on the chances you get, you're in trouble because they will. We capitalized the other night."

The coach expects Cleveland will stick pretty close to the game plan it has run all season while winning the division with a 31-9 record, eliminating Buffalo in the first round and grabbing a 2-0 lead in this series. Why mess with a winning hand?

Spirit tonight

Opponent: Cleveland Crunch

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7: 30

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

Outlook: An impressive 23-14 winner over Cleveland four days ago, the Spirit needs a similar type effort in Game 4 tonight just to get back on even terms in this best-of-five American Division showdown. The Crunch remains a healthy favorite despite second-leading playoff scorer Henry Gutierrez operating on a gimpy ankle, because the deciding game (if necessary) will be in Cleveland, where the Crunch was 16-4 during the regular season and is unbeaten in four starts in the postseason.

Pub Date: 4/13/96

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