Second-half outburst saves Spirit from upset 10 third-quarter points finally trip Toronto, 25-13

March 29, 1997|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

This was supposed to be a tuneup, a chance for the Spirit to play both goalies against the second-worst team in the National Professional Soccer League in preparation for next week's playoffs.

Instead, it looked suspiciously like an upset, at least for one half.

Trailing by one point at halftime, the Spirit erupted for 10 third-quarter points and coasted to a 25-13 triumph over the Toronto Shooting Stars (6-33) last night at Baltimore Arena.

The crowd of 6,671 for the final home game of the regular season was the second largest of the season. The Spirit sales force worked for weeks to produce a sellout of 11,300, but as recently as Thursday the expected turnout had dropped to about 8,000.

The game exacted its toll. Jason Dieter, who aggravated his surgically repaired left knee, and Doug Neely, who has a sore hamstring, are doubtful for tonight's regular-season finale in Philadelphia.

Entering the game, the Spirit had every reason to anticipate a romp. Toronto had dropped three straight games, seven of its past 10 and hadn't won on the road in 18 tries.

The Spirit didn't put the game away until the third quarter, with its second-largest production in one quarter of the season when it outscored Toronto 10-2. Ronnie Simmons and Lance Johnson each had a three-pointer in the period. The Spirit's 15 second-half points were a season high.

With Cris Vaccaro out for the weekend with a mild concussion and slight hamstring pull, Joe Mallia started in goal. Player-coach Mike Stankovic would have used rookie Jim McCombs in the second half if the score hadn't been so close (11-10, Toronto) at intermission.

McCombs probably will get a large share of the playing time in tonight's regular-season finale in Philadelphia. Vaccaro is questionable for next week's playoffs and Stankovic wants to have both Mallia and McCombs ready.

"Cris hasn't practiced for about 20 days, and until he's in shape we have to make sure Joe and Jimmy are ready to play," Stankovic said.

Jimmy Glenn scored the game's first goal, giving the Spirit its only lead of the half. The Shooting Stars kicked in three straight, two by Omar Dalombo, for a 7-2 edge.

The 40-year-old Stankovic did not dress for the game in the belief he could be of more value on the bench counseling the young players. He may not play tonight or in the playoffs, either.

"These guys sometimes have questions when they come off the field, and I can communicate better with them on the bench," Stankovic said. "Last year was different when we had more experienced guys. They could adjust between shifts without much help from me."

Does that mean Stankovic is finished as a player? Doubtful. Indeed, he said, "This doesn't mean I won't play a game or two" before this season is over.

NOTES: After tonight's regular-season finale in Philadelphia against the Kixx, the Spirit, runner-up in the NPSL's East Division, will open the playoffs a week from tonight at 7: 35 p.m. at the Baltimore Arena against the third-place team (Kixx or Tampa Bay Terror). The second game of the series would be played in Philadelphia or Tampa Bay and the third, if necessary, here on April 8.

Spirit tonight

Opponent: Philadelphia Kixx

Site: CoreStates Spectrum, Philadelphia

Time: 7: 05 p.m.

Radio: WWLG (1360 AM)

Outlook: In the final regular-season game for both teams, the Spirit will meet its possible first-round opponent in the National Professional Soccer League playoffs. The second-place Spirit has a 3-2 edge in the season rivalry. Philadelphia has lost three straight and six of its past 10.

Pub Date: 3/29/97

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