On the drive home to California last June after the Spirit season, Steve Boardman sought refuge for a night with his soccer friend, Dan O'Keefe, in St. Louis. Back on the road again the next day, Boardman was in Denver when he learned of the trade.
He phoned O'Keefe. "Did you hear the news?" he asked.
"No," O'Keefe said.
"You got traded for me," Boardman said.
Indeed, the Spirit traded Boardman, a defender, to the St. Louis Ambush for O'Keefe, a forward and the National Professional Soccer League's all-time leading goal scorer with 311.
Shocked? Not terribly. During a Spirit practice break yesterday at Du Burns Arena, O'Keefe talked about the events that led the Ambush to sour on him only a year after he won the 1991-92 NPSL scoring title.
O'Keefe missed part of training camp last year after surgery on his right knee. Doctors thought he had recovered sufficiently to play and gave him a cortisone shot when he still complained of pain. That succeeded only in making his knee stiff.
His relationship with the club continued to sour. Although he scored 60 goals and was the Ambush's No. 2 points scorer with 104 despite reduced playing time, O'Keefe was told after the season the team intended to trade him.
"It wasn't the kind of season like the previous five, but my knee was part of the reason," O'Keefe said.
Spirit coach Kenny Cooper wanted another target man, a prolific scorer strong enough to absorb the abuse of playing with his back to the goal and with the ability to dig the ball out of the corner. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound O'Keefe qualified.
The Spirit started last season with two target men, Michael King and Rusty Troy. King underwent knee surgery in midseason and was subsequently traded to the Milwaukee Wave. Troy was not at his best the second half of the season.