For the Spirit next season, the rebuilding will continue in the same building.
Despite losing four of its top five scorers from 1995-96, the Spirit finished its fifth year in the National Professional Soccer League with a 20-20 regular-season record and an advance to the second round of the playoffs, where it lost for the second straight year to the Cleveland Crunch.
And, yes, general manager Drew Forrester says, the club is staying in Baltimore despite a dip in attendance at the Arena for the third straight year and its lowest total (4,929) in five years, 11th in the 15-team league. The high was 6,470 in 1993-94.
"When I say we're not concerned, I don't mean we're happy with 5,000," Forrester said. "But we're not discouraged. Although group sales were down, season-ticket sales were up 27 percent.
"We finished on a good note [with 6,671] in the last regular-season home game against Toronto. We already know [at least] 15 of our 20 home games next season are on choice weekend dates. We'll keep plugging away."
Owner Bill Stealey was named NPSL chairman to work with commissioner Steve Paxos on elevating the league. Since Stealey spends most of his time in Raleigh, N.C., with a new business, he has been seeking Baltimore investors to join him in marketing the club.
"We're looking for people who have a love affair with soccer and the city," Forrester said. "We've met with four [potential] investors so far."
The team was nothing if not consistent, never more than two games over or under .500, never winning, or losing, more than three in a row. The defense was steady, fifth in the NPSL with a 12.35 average yield.
As replacements for prolific scorers like Franklin McIntosh and .. Kevin Sloan, Forrester and player-coach Mike Stankovic brought Branko Segota, who had been on 10 championship clubs, and Bo Vuckovic, who scored 150 points and had seven hat tricks. Vuckovic and Segota led the Spirit to the second round of the playoffs with 25 and 24 points, respectively.
Defender Doug Neely returned for another Spirit term and Jason Dieter blossomed into a productive, versatile player, playing forward, midfield, defense and even goalie during one three-game stretch.
Stankovic's rebuilding effort centered on young players such as Sasa Zoric, whom he found in Yugoslavia last summer and who had a club-rookie record 74 points.
"We have made real strides in developing young players with potential to be regulars in the mold of Dieter and [Barry] Stitz," Forrester said.