Crunch uses rally to defeat Spirit, 14-8 Rookie boosts Cleveland, minus its top two scorers

November 03, 1996|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

The Cleveland Crunch came to town without its one-two scoring punch but left with a victory, anyway.

Minus Hector Marinaro and Zoran Karic, the Crunch got its final three goals from rookie Nikola Vignjevic and defeated the Spirit, 14-8, last night before 5,591 at the Baltimore Arena.

The Spirit, already injury-riddled, lost another player, rookie Mike Henning, a former Towson High star, for three to five weeks with a sprained right knee.

Marinaro, the National Professional Soccer League scoring champion three of the past four seasons, is serving a three-game suspension for verbal abuse of a referee in last spring's playoffs. He was also fined $2,500.

Karic, the scoring champion in 1993-94, missed the game after straining a calf muscle in practice last week.

Hardly a game passes when Marinaro and Karic don't prove their worth to the defending NPSL champion.

In this year's opener, Karic had three goals and four assists for 10 points, bringing the NPSL Player of the Week salute. Marinaro had three goals in the 18-7 win over the Toronto Shooting Stars.

But last night Cleveland won with a tight defense anchored by goalie Otto Orf and Vignjevic's goals. He scored the game-winner late in the third quarter and added the last two in the game's final minute.

"Cleveland has won a lot of games without Marinaro and Karic," coach Mike Stankovic said. "They play within the team concept."

Said Cleveland coach Bruce Miller: "As always, Hector and Zoran are missed when they can't play. But I have the same confidence in the rest of my team, and they proved it tonight."

True to his vow, Spirit rookie Nesko Milovanovic stripped off his jersey after scoring his first goal at the Arena and heaved it into the crowd.

The Spirit also got goals from Henning, ex-Loyola College star Bill Harte (his first in the NPSL) and Stankovic.

"We took them right down to the end," Stankovic said. "It was a two-point game until the final minute. We're a very young team, and this was a good experience for us."

Cleveland took command in the third quarter, outscoring the Spirit 8-4. The Crunch entered the final period with a 10-8 edge and held it.

Cleveland nursed a 2-0 edge provided by Tommy Tanner's goal 5: 51 into the game until early in the second quarter, when Stankovic tied it on a restart goal.

A minute later, Henning put Baltimore ahead with a two-pointer with an assist from Harte. The Spirit held the 4-2 lead at halftime.

In a surprise move, the Spirit started rookie goalie Jim McCombs, who earned his first pro victory last week against the Tampa Bay Terror, making 20 saves.

With assistant coach/goalie Cris Vaccaro out with a broken toe, Joe Mallia was expected to start, but he will open Saturday on the road against the Harrisburg Heat. In sharing the job last season, Vaccaro had 14 wins, Mallia 10.

"Jim played very well in Tampa and had a good week of practice," Vaccaro said. "We felt it was smart to try him again and see if he can continue to play well. That's the only way to see if a goalkeeper can withstand the pressure of this game. You can't judge him on one game."

NOTE: The Spirit played without injured Barry Stitz, Ronnie Simmons, Branko Segota, Vaccaro and Lance Johnson. Johnson dressed, but would have been used only in an emergency.

NPSL standings, 20C

Pub Date: 11/03/96

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