Wright kicks in speed to Spirit offense Newcomer debuts in Friday's opener SOCCER

Cris Vaccaro calls him a menace to goalies. Spirit coach Kenny Cooper likens him to the Concorde. Doug Neely considers him the league's fastest player.

Paul Wright will go from villain to potential hero when the Spirit unveils its prize acquisition Friday night in its National Professional Soccer League opener against the Chicago Power at the Baltimore Arena.


A member of the Milwaukee Wave last season, when he scored 104 points in only 25 games, Wright has joined the Spirit's workouts after recovering from a pulled hamstring.

"I'll be 100 percent by Friday," Wright said.


A native of London who grew up in California, Wright, 24, hurt the hamstring Sept. 19 while playing for the Los Angeles Salsa in the outdoor American Professional Soccer League semifinals.

"Maybe I hadn't stretched or warmed up enough," Wright said. "I took a week off, then resumed training, but five minutes into the final game [Oct. 3 against the Colorado Foxes], I felt it again. I had it wrapped and did what I could the rest of the game, but we lost, 3-1."

Although Wright will bring experience and leadership to the Spirit, his main asset is speed, which enables him to score.

"When you're defending against a guy, his first step is most important," said Vaccaro, the Spirit's goalkeeper. "That first step and a quick release are two great tools in attacking a goalie, and Paul has both."

Neely, a Spirit defender, encountered Wright many times over the years. Wright became a pro at 18 and starred for four seasons for the San Diego Sockers of the now-defunct Major Soccer League.

"He's definitely the fastest guy in the league," Neely said. "In practice the last few days, I've been in positions where I knew what he was going to do but couldn't do anything about it because he's so quick."

Said Cooper: "His first step is electrifying. We'll try to clear space for him so we can capitalize on his speed."

When Wright joined the Milwaukee Wave last season, the team was 3-11. It went 14-12 thereafter. During one stretch, he scored three or more goals in six straight games and, despite missing the first 14 games, finished second on the team in scoring.


"We did all we could to stop him over the years," said Cooper. "We double-teamed him and played physical against him, but he didn't get ruffled. In a matter of seconds, he can turn a game around."

Wright is on loan to the Spirit from the Salsa after finishing as the APSL's No. 2 scorer with 33 points. Cooper had pursued him for years. Wright had soured on Milwaukee and was a free agent as far as the NPSL was concerned.

"I had an unpleasant experience in Milwaukee where the coach [Keith Tozer] looked to me to be the team instead of simply helping the team. I was supposed to score every time."

That was one reason Wright scored points in such abundance -- he shot often, because it was expected of him.

"I don't go out there looking to score," Wright said. "It just comes. I look to create opportunities, for teammates as well as myself. With my speed and experience they'll come."