Spirit freezes Blizzard, 17-3, for 8th win in row


The undefeated Spirit not only stretched its winning streak to eight, but also made it look easy in the process.

Before its largest Baltimore Arena crowd of the season, 7,167, the Spirit built a 6-0 first-quarter lead and coasted to a 17-3 victory over the Buffalo Blizzard (4-4) last night. It was the third largest crowd in the club's two-year history.

Paul Wright had four goals and an assist for eight points, two shy of the club record established last March by Tim Wittman against the Canton Invaders.

"They were just regular goals, nothing too exciting," said Wright, who also had four goals in the season opener against the Chicago Power. "A few shots found the corners.

For the Spirit, the National Professional Soccer League's only unbeaten team, the victory was its 14th straight at home during the regular season, dating to last January. The run has been interrupted only by a playoff loss to the Harrisburg Heat in April.

The Spirit is still five shy of the NPSL record for consecutive victories at the start of a season, 13 by the 1989 Canton Invaders.

The three points allowed represented the second lowest total in club history, to the two yielded to the now-defunct Denver Thunder last December.

"I don't think I've been part of such a fine team defense performance," Spirit coach Kenny Cooper said, noting that it was not just goalie Cris Vaccaro who was effective. "It was stunning."

The Spirit has allowed only 21 points in its past three games and has outscored its last two opponents, 41-11. In trimming its points-allowed average to 11.5, the Spirit replaced the Milwaukee Wave, which lost to the Detroit Rockers, 18-12, as the stingiest team in the league. Milwaukee's average is 12.8.

"Baltimore's defense played well collectively," Buffalo coach Trevor Dawkins said. "We never got going."

A third quarter in which the Spirit extended its lead to 17-3 was highlighted by Wright's third and fourth goals of the game and Doug Neely's first of the season.

The Spirit surged to a 6-0 first-quarter lead on goals by Tarik Walker, John Abe and Wright, who raised his team-high goals total to 15.

NOTES: Buffalo's Kris Kelderman, a former Blast player, missed his third straight game with a stubbed toe. Jon Gardner, 4-for-4 on one-point shootout attempts, was out with a sprained arch. Rudy Pikuzinski, the Blizzard's top scorer last season and No. 4 in the league with 165 points, entered last night's game with 17 in seven games . . . . John Abe, the former Northern High and Essex Community College star who signed after Rob Ukrop was hurt, had three points in his first two games. Jeff Berthney, a Harford County recreation coordinator, led a contingent of 1,200 fans from the area to the game.

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