Spirit tops Crunch for 9th in row


Even the Cleveland Crunch couldn't stop the Spirit.

Despite nine points by Zoran Karic, the National Professional Soccer League's points leader, the Spirit defeated the Crunch, 17-13, last night before 5,096 fans at the Baltimore Arena.

Cleveland has the second-best record in the NPSL's American Division, at 6-3, behind Baltimore (9-0), the league's only undefeated team.

The winning two-point goal, which broke a 13-13 tie, was scored by Clark Brisson with one minute remaining. Goalie Cris Vaccaro fired a pass the length of the field, Brisson trapped the ball, beat his man and scored.

It was Brisson's second goal of the night, giving him five points and 14 in the past four games. Eric Dade added an insurance goal with 20 seconds left, his second of the game.

"We knew it would be a close game, so we had to concentrate more," said Dade, labeled by Spirit coach Kenny Cooper as the game's unsung hero. "Everyone had to give extra effort."

Karic had three two-point goals and three assists, raising his point total to 71. Defender Doug Neely had the thankless job of guarding him.

"No team can actually stop Karic," Jason Dieter said. "He cheats, doesn't play defense. He stands in the offensive zone and hopes the keeper gets the ball and throws it to him, giving him a chance to score."

The Spirit is unbeaten in its past 15 home games and is 25-3 in its history at the Arena, including playoffs.

The Spirit's 9-0 start is the third best in NPSL history. The 1989-90 Canton Invaders started 13-0, the 1990-91 Invaders 10-0.

The Baltimore-Cleveland series always has been close. Dating to the days of the Blast, Baltimore and Cleveland came into last night's game with 14 wins apiece.

The third quarter was punctuated by four post shots by Cleveland and Vaccaro's stop of a Karic shootout attempt. Vaccaro is 5-for-7 against shootouts this season.

Only 29 seconds into the fourth period, Shawn Medved tied it at 11. John Abe put the Spirit back in front 13-11, but Karic tied it again at 13.

The Spirit's Dan O'Keefe, the NPSL all-time goals leader with 320, missed his third straight game with a sprained knee. He also will miss tomorrow night's game against the Power in Chicago.

Karic broke a league record with his assist on Cleveland's first goal, by Andy Schmetzer. With it, Karic extended his streak of at least one point to 42 straight games, breaking the mark of 41 held by Drago Dumbovic.

Karic made it 4-0 less than two minutes later. Karic might have harmed the Spirit more had he not spent the final 6:02 in the penalty box for a series of misconducts.

Brisson put Baltimore on the board and then assisted on Goran Hunjak's goal that tied it at 4.

Hector Marinaro, second to Karic in the league points race, scored on a Karic assist for a 6-5 Cleveland edge. Goals by Hunjak and Dade gave the Spirit a 9-6 lead at halftime.

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