Spirit's road again leads to frustration Road skid hits 11

Azmi gem wasted in 8-7 loss to Attack

January 18, 1998|By Bob Luder | Bob Luder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Spirit just can't seem to buy a break on the road.

Despite playing on the turf of the defending National Professional Soccer League champions, despite being outshot by more than a 2-to-1 margin, despite trailing by five points with a quarter to play, the Spirit nipped at the Kansas City Attack's heels most of the fourth quarter, only to fall short, 8-7, yesterday at Kemper Arena.

"That's our story this year," said Spirit player-coach Mike Stankovic, whose team fell to 5-17 (0-11 on the road). "We had so many chances. We just couldn't finish.

"We played tremendously defensively. But if you don't capitalize on your chances, it's tough to win."

Indeed, were it not for some brilliant goalkeeping from Moroccan World Cup veteran Khalil Azmi and some heady blocking from Spirit defenders, the game could've gotten out of hand before the Spirit had a chance to make its move in the final period.

"Their goalkeeper played an unbelievable game," said Kansas City's Eloy Salgado, who scored six of the Attack's points on four goals in the first quarter. "Taking nothing away from Baltimore, but this game could've been like 22-5 were it not for [Azmi]."

The Attack (12-9) peppered the Baltimore goal with shots, outshooting the Spirit 36-17.

Azmi turned back 13 of the 18 shots that reached him. Most of the others were stopped by the Spirit's 17 team blocks. Shane Dougherty (Maryland) led the Spirit with four.

Salgado, the Attack's scoring leader, found a couple of seams in the early going. Left unguarded in the Spirit's box, he caught a long ball played up by goalie Scoop Stanisic and punched it past Azmi for his first goal just 1: 22 into the game.

He added his second goal at the 6: 24 mark, charging in at the top of the key and taking a pass from Novi before beating Azmi to his right.

Salgado's other first-quarter scores came on a shootout and power-play goal, each worth one point.

Bo Vuckovic kept the Spirit alive with a two-point penalty kick in the first quarter and a power-play score early in the second as Kansas City took a 6-3 lead into the half.

Carlos Zavala's two-point goal, coming on a great second effort in the Spirit box, was the only score of the third quarter and put Kansas City up 8-3.

Vuckovic completed his hat trick when he stripped the Attack's Kevin Koetters deep in Kansas City territory and scored, pulling the Spirit to within 8-5 1: 28 into the fourth quarter.

The Spirit's Denison Cabral then added a two-pointer at the 3: 05 mark, leaving it to the Attack to shut out the Spirit the final 12 minutes to preserve the lead.

As the Spirit's luck would have it, Kansas City did, and it remained winless on the road for 1997-98.

"With all the young guys we have, we sometimes don't have enough composure around the box," Stankovic said. "We don't make that quick decision that is necessary. It comes with experience. Kansas City finds those little holes that make a difference.

"I told the guys that we had a great chance to win down the stretch. I thought we executed pretty well. We just have to move on and play another game."

The Spirit gets that chance when it takes on the St. Louis #F Ambush today at the Kiel Center.

Spirit tonight

Opponent: St. Louis Ambush

Site: Kiel Center, St. Louis

Time: 6:35

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: Perhaps the best team in the NPSL, the Ambush (15-4) wasn't able to pull clear until midway through the fourth quarter while defeating the Spirit in Baltimore at the start of the season, 14-8. The St. Louis team has been together for about five years and features several All-Stars, chief among them goalkeeper Jamie Swammer. The Spirit is 1-2 on this three-game weekend.

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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