Abe kicks his way home by getting job with Spirit


When John Abe was growing up in Germany in the 1960s, his mother never had to worry about where he was after school.

Somewhere on the military base where the German-born Elfrieda lived with her U.S. serviceman husband, Angelo, John would be kicking a soccer ball.

"There wasn't much else to do on the base except kick a soccer ball around," said Abe. "My mother never had to worry about where to find me or that I'd get into trouble."

Abe began playing soccer at 5 and hasn't stopped yet, at 32. He became the newest member of the Spirit this week when he was signed as the roster replacement for Rob Ukrop, the rookie who suffered a broken jaw last week against the Harrisburg Heat and will be out at least eight weeks.

Abe was 10 when he moved with his parents to Baltimore. At Northern High, he was a two-time, first-team All-Metro and all-state as a senior.

Northern played in the Maryland Scholastic Association's weak B Conference and was no match for Calvert Hall, then led by Tim Wittman, one of Abe's new teammates.

"Northern must have been the worst team in the country," Wittman said, laughing. "John was the standout. He knew how to play even then. Strong. Good shot. He'll fit in with us."

That's what Spirit coach Kenny Cooper thought when he signed Abe this week. Abe had been idle for the past month after failing to agree to contract terms with the Harrisburg Heat, but he worked as a service representative for Health America.

"I was in the Heat's preseason camp for three weeks, so I'm still in pretty good shape," Abe said.

Cooper has known Abe for years. In 1981, the Blast, coached by Cooper, drafted Abe as a two-time national junior college All-America coming out of Essex Community College.

"I was clueless about indoor soccer then," Abe said. Cooper, in explaining why Abe didn't make the club, put it more tactfully: "We had an abundance of players. I didn't know where he could fit in."

For the next five years, Abe worked as a Maryland National Bank teller. In 1987 he joined the outdoor Maryland Bays and was a member of their 1991 national championship team.

Indoors, he played for the NPSL's Hershey Impact, which last season moved to Harrisburg and became the Heat. In five NPSL seasons, covering 188 games, Abe scored 345 points, including 80 points last season for the Heat.

"He's become an accomplished indoor player, and I'm surprised Harrisburg didn't keep him after training camp," Cooper said. "He has an educated left foot."


Opponent: Chicago Power

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7:05

Radio: WWLG (1360 AM)

Tickets: Many available

Outlook: Chicago is coming off a 15-13 overtime victory over the Kansas City Attack that evened its record at 3-3. The Power lost its opener to the Spirit, 13-8. The Spirit (6-0), the National Professional Soccer League's only undefeated team, has won 12 straight at home and 22 of its past 25 at the Arena over the past two years. Paul Wright leads the Spirit with 26 points, followed by Tim Wittman with 24. The Essex Community College women's soccer team, coached by Scott Wittman, brother of the Spirit's Tim, will be honored before the game as the national junior college champion.

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