Spirit to face Kixx in playoffs Regular-season finale is 9-5 loss to Philadelphia

series kicks off Saturday

March 30, 1997|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- Only one thing other than a victory mattered to coaches Mike Stankovic of the Spirit and Dave MacWilliams of the Philadelphia Kixx as their teams squared off.

Neither cared about the identity of the opponent in the first round of the National Professional Soccer league playoffs that start next weekend. All that mattered was that the team play well last night.

So the Spirit and Kixx got each other after both played well in bTC 9-5 Philadelphia win in their final regular-season game before 10,168 at the CoreStates Spectrum.

The Spirit will entertain the Kixx in the first round Saturday at 7: 35 at Baltimore Arena, travel here for the second game Sunday at 4: 05 and, if necessary, return to Baltimore for a third game April 8 at 7: 35.

"I'm confident if the team comes out and plays hard defense and finishes its chances, we have a good shot at beating them," said the Spirit's Jason Dieter.

As a result of its loss and the Cincinnati Silverbacks' 32-4 romp over the Columbus Invaders last night, the Spirit is the fourth seed in the American Conference, facing fifth seed Philadelphia. The teams tied in their season series 3-3.

In the other American Conference first rounder, third-seeded Cincinnati will meet the sixth-seeded Tampa Bay Terror, which lost to the Buffalo Blizzard, 17-8, last night. The Central and East division winners, the Cleveland Crunch and Harrisburg Heat, have first-round byes.

"I don't care who we play," Stankovic said before the game. "I just want to be playing well going into the playoffs. We've been playing pretty decently lately, against Harrisburg and Friday night against Toronto."

And last night against the Kixx.

The Kixx came into the game with a three-game losing streak and six defeats in its previous 10 games.

"Finishing on a positive note like this helps us psychologically entering the playoffs," MacWilliams said.

After taking a 2-0 lead on Bo Vuckovic's goal midway through the first quarter, little was heard from the Spirit the rest of the game. Philadelphia led at halftime 3-2 and 7-4 after three quarters.

Twenty-four hours after saying he might not play anymore this season, partly because he can counsel his young players better from the bench, Stankovic suited up last night.

"Some guys are hurting and a few others could use the rest, so I decided to dress," said Stankovic, who last played March 4.

Four Spirit players sat out with injuries: Dieter (aggravated surgically repaired knee), goalie Cris Vaccaro (mild concussion and pulled hamstring), Doug Neely (pulled hamstring) and Sasa Zoric (sprained ankle).

Stankovic rested Branko Segota and allowed scoring leader Vuckovic merely to break a sweat. Jamie Christie and Josh Houle, who didn't play in Friday night's win over the Toronto Shooting Stars, got extended activity.

Rookie Jim McCombs started in goal as a tuneup for the playoffs.

Spirit vs. Kixx

NPSL playoffs

First round, best of three

Date, Site ............... Time

Saturday, Baltimore ...... 7:35

April 6, Philadelphia .... 4:05

April 8*, Baltimore ...... 7:35

* -- if necessary

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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