PHILADELPHIA -- It didn't take the Spirit's Jason Dieter long to announce he had returned.
After missing seven games after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Jan. 14, Dieter scored four of the Spirit's first five points to trigger a 17-13 win over the Philadelphia Kixx last night before 6,149 at the CoreStates Spectrum.
The victory enabled the Spirit (14-14) to inch ahead of the Harrisburg Heat (13-14) into first place in the National Professional Soccer League's tight East Division race. Philadelphia is 12-15.
"I just tried to do the simple things to help the team, and I was fortunate to get two goals early," Dieter said. "My main objective was simply to get back into it. I faded a little at the end, but otherwise it went OK."
"We've struggled recently, and this was a big game," said Philadelphia coach Dave MacWilliams. "We've had injuries, and that's tough on an expansion team. Our leading scorer [Peter Vermes] missed nine of 13 games and two other guys missed a lot of time."
Both teams have been struggling. The Spirit had lost six of its last 10 and the Kixx had dropped 13 of its last 18 after a 7-1 start.
"This game is as big as it gets," said Spirit coach Mike Stankovic. "We came out strong and held it. I think we're starting to jell. We haven't been able to get into first place and take off. Now is the time to do that."
The Spirit will entertain the Central Division doormat Columbus Invaders tomorrow and the St. Louis Ambush, which has the best record (20-4) in the league, on Sunday.
The Spirit led by 10 points in the third quarter, but Philadelphia inched within two at 15-13 on four straight goals spanning the third and fourth quarters, two by Joey Murtagh.
With 3: 42 remaining, the Spirit's old men, Branko Segota and Stankovic, collaborated on a goal to provide breathing room. Segota converted Stankovic's pass to make it 17-13.
Vermes led the Kixx with seven points. Bo Vuckovic had three one-point goals for the Spirit.
Dieter's second score created a 5-5 tie after one period. It was the first of four straight goals that propelled the Spirit to a 12-5 halftime lead. Stankovic's three-pointer was the big kick.
NOTES: The Spirit's Ronnie Simmons (hip flexor) and Shane Dougherty (ankle) sat out. Philadelphia goalie Pete Pappas strained his back in practice yesterday and was replaced by Bill Andracki. Pappas and the Spirit's Jamie Christie were roommates for two years at Philadelphia Textile. The Spirit's double overtime loss on a shootout to the Wichita Wings eight days ago was the fourth longest (82 minutes, 16 seconds) in NPSL history. The longest (94: 05) matched the Toledo Pride and Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1987.