Spirit coach Kenny Cooper calls them the "odd couple." Kevi Smith and Steve Nichols themselves sometimes marvel at the match.
"We're so different," Nichols said. "He's from England. I'm an American of Greek descent. He's 30, with 13 years of pro experience; I'm 24, a rookie. I went to college; he went from high school straight into pro soccer. He's married with two kids. I'm single."
When Smith was signed by the Spirit and flew in from Dallas to join the team Jan. 13 after Michael King's season-ending knee injury, Cooper suggested he stay temporarily with Nichols. There was room in Nichols' Ruxton condo that he and two other former Loyola College players were renting.
Smith and Nichols were skeptical about the arrangement at first. Smith knew he would be homesick for his wife, Sally, and children Hayley, 6, and Keegan, 3, back in Dallas. Nichols had a personal life, too. His girlfriend, Amy Fabrizio, plays women's soccer at Loyola College.
In the two months since, Smith and Nichols have become fast friends as well as roommates. Nichols has a live-in soccer teacher.
"I'm blessed more than any other rookie because I have Kevin," Nichols said. "It's like having the Harvard of soccer. I'm learning from the best, 24 hours a day.
"If I have a bad game, he tells me how to pick myself up, recalling his rookie days 13 years ago. If I have a good game, he brings me back to earth so I won't get cocky."
Smith benefits from the relationship in many ways. Nichols chauffeurs him everywhere and they eat often at Casa Mia's, a York Road restaurant owned by Steve's parents, George and Cathy.
"Even the waitresses know me now," Smith said.
Two weeks ago, when the Spirit was greeted by the blizzard upon returning from a game in Canton, Ohio, Smith and Nichols couldn't get to the condo and sought refuge at Steve's parents' house.
"I felt like a third son," Smith said. "Three days with food fit for a king."
Smith, fifth on the team in points (64 going into Saturday's regular-season finale at Harrisburg) despite playing in just a little more than half the games, found his No. 1 fan in the Nichols family. Steve's brother, Mark, who plays for Boys' Latin, wears a pin bearing Smith's photo.
Nichols has helped Smith shape up, particularly with his grooming. The Englishman arrived from Dallas with shoulder-length hair. It is gone, thanks to Nichols' barber. This week Smith shaved off his mustache of six years.
"My wife won't know me," he said.
Nichols and his girlfriend seldom have any time alone anymore. Smith is always with them, when they go out to eat, even to a movie.
"I bet Amy can't wait until April when I go back to Dallas," Smith said, laughing.
NOTES: The Spirit will stage games April 6 and 8 at Baltimore Arena in the first round of the National Professional Soccer League's American Division playoffs. Both games will start at 7:05 p.m. The Spirit, the American Division champion, will play the fourth-place finisher, either the Harrisburg Heat or the Dayton Dynamo, in the best-of-three series. The fourth-place team will play host to one playoff game on a date to be determined. Tickets for the playoff games here range from $4 to $13 and are on sale at the Arena. For tickets and related information, call (410) 481-SEAT.