Spirit finds late legs for 22-16 win Esposito, Buckovic spark road win over Columbus

November 27, 1996|By Thad Plumley | Thad Plumley,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Spirit's NPSL game here last night started oddly, as play was halted seconds into the contest because of a faulty scoreboard.

When the game resumed, Baltimore proceeded to make the Columbus Invaders wish the scoreboard at the Columbus Convention Center had never been fixed as the Spirit scored a season-high 22 points in a 22-16 victory.

"This is a win that can create confidence for us," said Spirit coach and defender Mike Stankovic. "This is a tough building to play in, the field is small and they are a physical team. This is a good win for us. A win is always a win, but this is good because we came through in the fourth period. We have to try to move on now."

The victory improved Baltimore's record to 4-4, and moved it into a second-place tie with Harrisburg in the NPSL East Division. Both squads trail front-running Philadelphia by three games.

Baltimore dominated long stretches of the contest with a controlled attack. It spread the field and used a series of two-touch passes to get several scoring opportunities. Bobby Joe Esposito led the scoring with four goals and one assist.

Setting things up most of the night was Bo Buckovic, who had three assists to go along with two goals, including an empty-net three-pointer which iced the victory with 1: 40 remaining in the game.

The Spirit, however, didn't shake Columbus until the last quarter. The game was tied at 12 heading into the final 15 minutes, and Baltimore fell behind twice in the final quarter.

But for the first time all year, the Spirit picked up things when the game was on the line. Baltimore had been outscored 24-9 in fourth quarters this year, but erupted for 10 points against Columbus.

Barry Stitz got the game-winner when he chested in a cross from Buckovic with 1: 58 left. Buckovic's three-pointer followed and goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro added an empty-net goal off a throw with 10 seconds on the clock.

"This gives us confidence," Buckovic said. "The last couple games, we hadn't been scoring in the fourth. We talked about it a lot, and said we need to lift up our game -- and we did."

The Invaders preferred a physical, fast-breaking game which would start with long passes from goalkeeper Chuck Martini. The tactic worked in the first half as Baltimore led only 10-7 at intermission.

Baltimore's first-half attack was led by Esposito, who notched two goals and one assist. He started the scoring with the fastest goal to begin a game for the Spirit this year. When play resumed after the scoreboard was repaired, he took a pass from Stankovic at the far post and blasted home a short shot just 15 seconds into play.

"We can build on this," Stankovic said. "We had struggled in the fourth, but came through when we were down. It has taken us awhile to jell, but this is a good place to start."

Pub Date: 11/27/96

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