O'Keefe's return does the trick for Spirit


The Spirit's Dan O'Keefe rolled off the trainer's table and got right back to business.

O'Keefe, who had missed five games with a knee injury, scored a hat trick -- his first points since Nov. 24 -- to lead the Spirit to a 19-17 victory over the Dayton Dynamo last night before 7,426 at the Baltimore Arena.

It was the third time in the past four home games the Spirit drew more than 7,000 and the first time in the club's two-year history that it had back-to-back crowds of 7,000.

O'Keefe, the National Professional Soccer League's all-time leading goal scorer with 323, got all of his goals in the second half. It was his second hat trick of the season.

His final goal with seven minutes left proved to be the winner, and it was partly a matter of being in the right place at the right time with his 6-foot-2, 200-pound body. From midfield, Doug Neely kicked the ball off the glass above the goal, and O'Keefe was there to knock in the rebound.

"I tried to make my body big so it would hit me," O'Keefe said. "I jumped into the ball, and it hit me on both feet and went in."

Trainer Marty McGinty, smiling, said: "Luck of the Irish."

During a shoot-around yesterday morning, O'Keefe experienced

no pain in his right knee for the first time in six weeks.

"Sometimes with an injury you wake up and it's gone," O'Keefe said. "I'm as surprised as anyone. Tuesday I couldn't strike the ball with my right foot with authority without pain. Yesterday I could."

Jason Dieter said: "No matter how many games he's out, Danny will do the job. He's so big, so experienced, he's a defender's nightmare."

The Spirit pulled away during an eight-point third quarter, which featured two goals by O'Keefe and built its lead to 15-8.

Oakland Mills High grad Kevin Sloan had his third straight hat trick for Dayton, and Brad Smith had four assists.

The Spirit (12-2), the NPSL's winningest team and the American Division leader, raised its record to 8-1 at home. Baltimore has outscored its opponents, 153-106, at the Arena.

Dayton (5-12) lost its fifth straight as its road record dipped to 2-9. For the Dynamo, which led briefly early in the second quarter, it was the fourth straight game in which its opponent came from behind to win.

Trailing, 15-8, entering the fourth quarter, Dayton inched up on the Spirit. Baltimore led by two midway through the period, but O'Keefe's third goal made it 19-15. Sloan's third, with 37 seconds left, was too little, too late.

The Spirit's Paul Wright extended to 30 games his streak in which he has had at least one point -- 14 this season -- with an assist on Tarik Walker's game-opening goal. Wright is three games shy of Goran Hunjak's club record 17 set last season.

Rookie Ricky Bush, a member of three East Coast Conference championship teams at Towson State, was in uniform for the first time and saw limited action. He replaces Tim Wittman, who is out for the season. Bush is Towson State's all-time assists leader with 22.

NOTES: When Wittman went down with the torn knee ligament Sunday, it marked the fifth straight year a Cooper team has been hit by that season-ending injury. The list, dating to the Blast's final years: David Vaudreuil, Angelo Panzetta, Mike Stankovic and Michael King. All except Stankovic, the Spirit's assistant coach, are still playing, Vaudreuil and King for the Milwaukee Wave and Panzetta for the Harrisburg Heat. . . . Rusty Troy took over Wittman's role as captain.

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