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Spirit's Stankovic still gets his kicks Has first workout since knee surgery


Mike Stankovic might not be finished as a soccer player, after all.

Ten months after undergoing major knee surgery, Stankovic acted as if he had never been away from the game during the opening workouts of the Spirit's three-day minicamp yesterday at Myers Pavilion in Brooklyn.

"It was like the knee injury never happened," Spirit coach Kenny Cooper said of the man who played nine years for the Blast and was a seven-time member of the Major Indoor Soccer League's All-Star team.

Cooper figured Stankovic would be strictly an assistant coach. When Stankovic got hurt last December, 14 games into the season, it appeared that, at 35, he was finished.

"The fire is burning and he still wants to play," Cooper said. "If he can, terrific, but I'm not rushing him. If he can't, he's a full-time assistant coach.

"Coming through this first workout with no aftereffects means he overcame a huge obstacle. He looks as good as ever. If he does come back, it would give us a great lift."

Stankovic, who came to this country from Yugoslavia in 1977, played for Dallas and Wichita as well as Baltimore and was named to the MISL's all-decade team of the 1980s.

Although he was running easily during yesterday's scrimmages, Stankovic said, "I'm not ready now. I'm back about 70 to 80 percent. But the doctors say I can go in full scrimmages."

In addition to Stankovic, 15 other players showed up yesterday, including eight free agents. The rest were first-year players already signed to contracts and, although the camp is not compulsory for them, veterans.

Cooper greeted them with a terse message: "It's great to see soccer continuing in Baltimore. Let's play."

They played through two 90-minute sessions consisting almost exclusively of scrimmaging. Cooper chose that format, instead of drills, in the belief it would help the newcomers relax and give them more opportunities to display their wares.

"We have some roster spots open," Cooper said. "Even the players already signed don't have guaranteed contracts, so everyone is competing for a spot."

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