Spirit avoids letdown, beats Invaders, 14-4 With concentration intact, rout of Columbus is on

February 16, 1997|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

Forget the fact it's the hapless Columbus Invaders out there. Avoid complacency. Concentrate on simply playing well.

That was Spirit player-coach Mike Stankovic's message to the ++ team before last night's game against the Invaders, one of the National Professional Soccer League's two worst teams.

"They can surprise you," Stankovic said, noting that Columbus beat the defending NPSL champion Cleveland Crunch earlier. "We have to play well as a team, continue to improve and pay no attention that it's Columbus."

He did not have to remind anyone that tonight the Spirit will confront the best team in the league, the St. Louis Ambush.

Once the Spirit built a 6-0 halftime lead, it did not play with much inspiration, but well enough to defeat the Invaders, 14-4, before 4,515 at Baltimore Arena. The four points were the fewest the Spirit has allowed all season.

The loss was Columbus' ninth straight, leaving its record at 4-24, including 1-13 on the road. It has allowed more points (571) than any other team in the league.

The Invaders have dropped 17 of 19 decisions to the Spirit, including the years they played in Canton.

The Spirit (15-14) increased its lead over the second-place Harrisburg Heat (13-14) to 1 1/2 games in the tight East Division race. The Heat will play the Milwaukee Wave today while the Spirit is entertaining St. Louis.

Rookie Sasa Zoric and veteran Branko Segota paced the Spirit with a pair of two-point goals apiece. Segota's second one came in the fourth period, when the Spirit raised its lead from 8-4 to the final 14-4.

The Spirit took a 6-0 halftime lead on Zoric's two goals and one by Segota, who was assisted by fellow old man Stankovic. Goalie Joe Mallia had 12 saves in throttling the Invaders.

With the return from the wounded list of Jason Dieter (knee) Thursday night and Ronnie Simmons (hip flexor) last night, the Spirit is at its healthiest of the season. Only recently-signed rookie Shane Dougherty (ankle) is still out.

"This is the first time the whole team has been on the floor," Stankovic said. "Even for the season opener, we had three or four guys hurt. That's when the young guys stepped in and did a good job."

Of the 22 players the Spirit has used this season, all except Mallia have received treatment of some kind. Fifteen players have missed a total of 102 games.

NOTES: Drew Callahan, Columbus' No. 2 scorer who played in last week's All-Star Game here, missed last night's game to undergo tests centering on fluctuations in his heartbeat. Because the Invaders were short of players, No. 3 goalie Dejan Jelcic suited up as a field player. Cris Vaccaro, who has allowed only 43 points in his last five games, will start in goal for the Spirit today against the Ambush. Columbus F Mark Kerlin, 33, scored 16 points for the old Blast during the 1985-86 season, when he was a teammate of Stankovic. The Invaders, based in Canton until this season, won five of the first six NPSL championships, but haven't had a winning season since 1991-92.

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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