Azmi has resume for start with Spirit Rookie goalie boasts Cup, MLS experience

October 30, 1997|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

On the surface, it appears to be a gutsy, maybe even foolhardy move, the Spirit going with a seemingly callow rookie in goal against the potent St. Louis Ambush in its home opener Saturday.

But Khalil Azmi, who is drawing the assignment, is hardly your fuzzy-cheeked, gee-I'm-glad-to-be-here young man. To begin with, Azmi took up residence in goal in 1981 in his native Morocco and rose all the way to become his country's goalie in World Cup '94. On the way and during seven qualifying games, he registered four shutouts before going 0-2 in the Cup competition itself.

Then, recently, there was a couple of seasons in the A-League sandwiched around a year in the Major League Soccer before signing on with the Spirit as a free agent during the summer. However, all his experience is outdoors, a far different game than the ricochet festival indoors. Or is it?

"Yes and no," Baltimore coach Mike Stankovic said. "Khalil knows the game; he knows everything there is to about covering the net and stopping shots. Anybody who can play this game well outdoors can play indoors. It's just a matter of seeing situations over and over.

"Khalil has picked up the indoor game very quickly and has improved each day during the preseason. He has incredible quickness and will only get better as he learns the nuances of the game."

Actually, Azmi picked up some experience in the Spirit's opening 21-19 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Kixx last Saturday, although the game clock didn't move even one second during his stay on the carpet.

A flash fight and a third-man-in disqualification had set up a dou- ble shootout, and Bo Vuckovic converted to give the Spirit a 17-16 lead. Azmi spelled goalie Jim McCombs to face Matt Knowles' attempt at a tie, but he was called for tripping and a two-point penalty kick was awarded. The kick was good and timed play resumed as Azmi returned to his spot on the bench.

All along, Stankovic has said he'll be working the team's seven rookies into regular shifts as quickly as possible and an injury to McCombs' hand has quickened the process in goal. Circumstances in the Philly game also led to first-year defenders and forwards getting lots of running time.

The Spirit dressed 17 players but sat Branko Segota (sprained knee). Next, Ronnie Simmons injured a rib and missed several shifts, Barry Stitz sat for more than five minutes in the fourth period for fighting and Shane Dougherty was ejected as the third man into the scuffle. For an uneasy moment or two and with just 11 position players at his disposal for a while, Stankovic thought he might have to activate himself. Again.

Pub Date: 10/30/97

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