The debut of the National Professional Soccer League in Baltimore couldn't have been much better last night.
Baltimore's own Tim Wittman scored three goals and Joe Koziol and Rusty Troy added two each. Spirit, the new kid among the city's sports teams, soared past the Chicago Power in its home )) opener, 19-12, at the Baltimore Arena.
A crowd of 6,471 watched the Spirit assume command in the second period and hold off the Power's comeback from a 15-6 deficit to make its first NPSL weekend an unbeaten one.
The Spirit fell behind, 9-0, in its first game at Milwaukee Friday night, but rallied to win in overtime, 13-11.
"This is what we've worked so hard for. This was a very long day," said coach Kenny Cooper. "We had to get up at 4:45 this morning in Milwaukee and the players deserve all the credit. We outplayed two good teams this weekend."
Wittman, the 12-year indoor veteran, got the Spirit ignited 10 seconds after a Power goal by Ken Snow had tied the game at 4 early in the second period.
He converted from the top of the circle on a free kick by beating a three-man Chicago wall and goalie Russ Prince, to give the Spirit a 6-4 lead. Chicago never got even again.
"When you just split a wall, anything can happen," said Wittman. "The keeper can't see a lot of things. You just hit and it goes in."
He also scored the 18th Spirit point on a shootout by flicking the ball over the goaltender's head with his heel and scored on the power play, a one-point play.
"I usually don't take shootouts," he said. "But this was one time in my career I felt like trying something."
The Power, two-time defending National Division champions, received consecutive goals from Ken Snow and Mirko Castillo to pull to within 15-10 with almost 10 minutes remaining in the game, plenty of time to win under the liberal scoring rules.
But one of the eight Charm City natives on the roster, Jason Dieter, drilled a two-pointer 12 seconds after the Chicago flurry ended to blunt the momentum.
Cris Vaccaro, who made 13 saves against Milwaukee Friday night, was in goal again, stopping 22 shots this time.
"I think our young players went into the fire and came out well," said Cooper. "There will never be a tougher test than to go in before 15,000 [in Milwaukee] in the other team's home opener.
"We've got guys willing to outwork the other team. They're the types who thrive on running."
The Spirit met the fans at the gates before the game, then took their victory lap in the stands to introduce themselves afterward.
"I think everybody in the organization is committed to making sure we re-kindle the spirit," said Cooper. "We're willing to help each other."
Wittman wasn't quite as enthusiastic.
"I think it [opener] went all right, but I expected a few more people after the game we played in Milwaukee. I guess it's going to take time for them to see what it's worth," he said.