Something about the Baltimore Arena brings out the best in the Spirit.
Struggling a bit, burdened by three straight losses, all on the road, the Spirit awoke last night to edge the Milwaukee Wave, 19-17, on Tim Wittman's two-point goal 2:59 into the second overtime before 6,210 at the Arena. It was the longest game in Spirit history -- 77 minutes, 59 seconds.
Positioned in the slot in front of the net, Wittman took a pass from Goran Hunjak and jammed it into the goal.
"Goran just shot it in the general area and hoped something would happen," Wittman said, only half in jest. "He said he thought he saw Timmy and he'll put it in."
The win, which clinched a spot in the National Professional Soccer League playoffs for the Spirit, was the team's fifth straight at home and raised its record to 15-2 at the Arena.
"This is a grand old building," Spirit coach Kenny Cooper said. "The fans are virtually right on top of you. The atmosphere at some games has been electric. This gives us a seventh man, willing us on."
Paul Wright led Milwaukee with seven points, and Hunjak paced the Spirit with five. Barry Stitz and Kevin Smith had four apiece. Milwaukee came into the game with eight victories in its last 10 games.
It was the Spirit's fifth largest crowd of the season, four of them in the last six games. All of the other crowds in the top five were on Saturday nights.
The game bore strong resemblance to the season's opener when the teams met in Milwaukee. The Spirit won that in overtime, 13-11.
The Spirit entered the fourth quarter with a 15-13 lead and raised it to 17-13 on Smith's goal. But Milwaukee scored the next four points, on goals by Jim Gabarra and Dave Vaudreuil, to force overtime.
The first overtime featured several near misses, including two shots by the Spirit that hit the post, and spectacular saves by Baltimore's Cris Vaccaro and Milwaukee's Victor Nogueira. Vaccaro went down briefly in the first overtime after being struck on the head by teammate Jason Dieter's knee.
"I was dizzy," Vaccaro said. "I still am a little."
The Spirit jumped to a 4-0 lead midway through the first period after goals by Joe Koziol and Stitz. Stitz did a clever stutter-step, faking with his right foot and scoring with his left.
Matt Knowles put the Wave on the board, but Hunjak made it 6-2 after one quarter.
Wright had a big second period, scoring seven points, including a three-pointer. He brought the Wave within 6-4, but Steve Boardman kicked in his team-high fourth three-pointer of the season to raise the advantage to 9-4.
After Wright scored his second goal, Jason Dieter and Stitz came back to make it 13-6.
Wright banged home his third goal, a three-pointer, but Smith's two-pointer with 44 seconds left gave the Spirit a 15-9 halftime bulge.
NOTES: D Doug Neely, who missed Tuesday night's NPSL All-Star Game because of a sprained ankle, is expected to return to the Spirit lineup Sunday here against the Harrisburg Heat. Mike Stankovic, who has played in Neely's absence, will return to the bench as Cooper's assistant coach. . . . Cooper coached the American Division to a 15-14 win over the National in the All-Star Game. Wittman, who replaced Neely on the squad, scored the American's first goal. The key to the game? This from Cooper: "We had a lot of top offensive players, but we won because they played good team defense. I told them before the game if they didn't run and play defense, I'd take them out, no matter who they were." Wittman also had an assist, as did Hunjak. Vaccaro had 10 saves. . . . Next for the Spirit is a trip to Canton to play the Invaders tomorrow. The Spirit is 3-0 against Canton this season. . . . The first 5,000 fans at the Harrisburg game Sunday