Marinaro, Karic put on two-man show in NPSL Crunch's potent stars will display skills today

February 09, 1997|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

From the moment they arrived, the Cleveland Crunch's Hector Marinaro and Zoran Karic had a special impact on the National Professional Soccer League.

It was the 1992-93 season, and Marinaro and Karic finished one-two in the league scoring race with 248 and 222 points, respectively. No one else finished within 40 points of them.

The pattern hasn't varied much since, except that once it was Karic-Marinaro. Fans who turn out for the NPSL All-Star Game today at the Baltimore Arena will see two of the best indoor players in history and, as Cleveland general manager Al Miller said, "a one-two punch like nothing else."

Consider: In the past four seasons, Marinaro has won three Most Valuable Player awards and Karic the other. Marinaro has won three scoring championships and Karic one.

It almost seems like an aberration that the Detroit Rockers' Dennis Brose is the league's current scoring leader with 179 points, although Karic and Marinaro are right behind him with 167 and 153.

Marinaro is the goal scorer, the all-time leader in indoor-soccer history, and Karic is the playmaker. In their eighth season together, including three in the defunct Major Indoor Soccer League, they no longer need to work off eye contact, much less talk.

"We're at the point now where we don't even look for eye contact," Marinaro said. "After eight years, instincts have taken over."

Karic, the man who so often feeds Marinaro and is the league leader in assists with 53, said, "Hector is the best scorer I've seen, by far. He has a nose for the ball and can score with either foot from any distance.

"He makes it so easy for me. He's not great one-on-one, but he's smart enough to know that and gets the ball to me and then gets open, knowing I'll find him with a pass."

At 35, Karic is three years older than Marinaro, but retains, he says, his passion for the game. He will go on, despite an increasing number of nagging injuries.

"Part of the problem is fitness, and I don't like to practice," Karic said. "When you get older, you have to practice and stretch more. I'm kind of lazy about this."

He is spurred by the fact that the NPSL doesn't have as many top players as the MISL did in its heyday. For Karic, and Marinaro, too, it's akin to men playing against boys.

"I'm 35, but I feel like I'm 25 when playing in this league," Karic said.

Few players are so blunt, but those who have played in both leagues admit there's a huge difference.

"Not to put down the NPSL, but in its prime the MISL had more quality players than we have here now," said Spirit player-coach Cris Vaccaro. "There were tremendous players from all over the world."

The difference, Karic says, was in the greater abundance of foreign players in the MISL.

"There were five to seven with working visas in the MISL on each team who were really skilled, guys from Europe and South America," he said. "Now there's about one or two.

"But the NPSL is good for American kids; they're getting better. They've improved a lot in the last five, six years."

Karic, a native of Yugoslavia, was new to this country and playing, rather unhappily, for the MISL's San Diego Sockers when Miller concocted a way to acquire him for the Crunch.

San Diego general manager Ron Cady wanted Paul Wright, and Miller happened to have him.

"Wright for Karic," Miller said. "That was the best single swindle I ever made.''

In 1994, his MVP year, Karic led the expansion team to a championship. Last season, he and Marinaro led Cleveland to another championship, and Marinaro was named MVP.

Marinaro, a native of Toronto, was a teen-ager when Miller first saw him as a talented but immature player. A defender then, Marinaro was released and signed by the Minnesota Strikers.

"Hector called one day and wanted to come back, because it was nearer home," Miller said. "By then, he was a forward, switched there from defense when Minnesota had a rash of injuries. The rest is history."

Marinaro recalls "crying like a baby" when, at 18, he was cut by Cleveland after five games without a goal. That memory came tumbling back the other week when he became indoor soccer's all-time leader in goals after he scored No. 741.

"Now I'd like to play long enough to get 1,000," he said.

Two of a kind

Top five scorers each year that Hector Marinaro and Zoran Karic have been in the NPSL:

1992-93

Hector Marinaro, Cleveland 248

Zoran Karic, Cleveland 222

Gino DiFlorio, Canton 178

Rudy Pikuzinski, Buffalo 165

Jon Parry, Kansas City 161

1993-94

Karic 267

Marinaro 253

Andy Chapman, Detroit 178

David Doyle, St. Louis 175

DiFlorio 159

1994-95

Marinaro 255

Karic 241

Mark Moser, St. Louis 195

Dennis Brose, Dayton 191

Goran Hunjak, Kansas City 181

1995-96

Marinaro 247

Karic 184

Franklin McIntosh, Spirit 177

Joe Reiniger, St. Louis 170

Shawn Medved, Cincinnati 164

1996-97

Brose, Detroit 179 in 29 games

Karic 167 in 24

Marinaro 153 in 23

McIntosh, Cin. 108 in 26

Micheal King, Mil. 107 in 23

(Through Friday's games)

The 200 club

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