Form held for the Spirit and the Dayton Dynamo. Barely.
The Spirit is virtually unbeatable at home. The Dynamo does little except lose on the road.
The Spirit, 14-1 at the Baltimore Arena this season, hung on to defeat the Dynamo, 11-9, last night before 5,817 fans. It left Dayton 2-13 on the road.
"This is a game that last year we probably would have lost," said Spirit coach Kenny Cooper. "You've got to match their work rate. There's a lot of banging against the boards and scrambling in front of the goal. They try to make you lose your composure. For the most part, we kept ours."
Clark Brisson scored what proved to be the winning two-point goal late in the third quarter, giving the Spirit a 10-6 advantage. Dayton scored three points in the fourth quarter, the last by Chris Pfau, giving him a hat trick, to inch within 10-9 with 7:39 left.
With 1:44 left, Dayton pulled goalie Carlos Pena and inserted a sixth attacker, Tony Bono. Despite that, the Spirit, the National Professional Soccer League's winningest team (20-4), turned back Dayton's final attacks and Paul Wright scored the final point on a shootout.
Spirit goalie Cris Vaccaro, the NPSL's top-rated goalie, made 17 saves and raised his record to 18-2. It was the 10th time the Spirit has held an opponent to 10 points or less.
"Typical Dayton-Baltimore game," Vaccaro said. "Physical and tight. We've got to expect the same [tonight in Dayton]."
Assistant coach Mike Stankovic, activated five games ago, aggravated a groin strain and is expected to miss tonight's game and next Friday's road game against the Milwaukee Wave.
The Spirit's Tarik Walker, bidding for the NPSL Rookie of the Year award, scored the game's first goal, giving him 17 points in his past six games. It was the only goal of the period.
The early part of the second period was marked by a series of unsportsmanlike penalties that put Baltimore's Wright and Lance Johnson and Dayton's Kevin Sloan and Dennis Bose into the penalty box at the same time.
Stankovic also drew a penalty, his first in five games since being activated. Stankovic, 37, was the Major Soccer League's all-time penalty minutes leader with 300.
The period featured five goals by each team as the Spirit took a 7-5 halftime lead.
Until Friday night's game with Buffalo was postponed -- the Blizzard couldn't fly into Baltimore due to the weather -- the Spirit faced a three-games-in-three-nights stretch.
"We were looking forward to playing Buffalo," Cooper said. "But two-in-two nights will be less demanding and leave us fresher."
Cooper suggested during the week to Wright, the team's leading scorer, that he skip tonight's game in Dayton as a respite. In addition to Spirit games and accompanying travel in recent weeks, Wright had two round-trip flights to the West Coast for games with his summer team, the Los Angeles Salsa, in a tournament against El Salvador.
"When I suggested that if we won Friday and Saturday that he not make the Sunday trip, he said, 'Absolutely not, I'm here to play,' " Cooper said.
Despite his grueling schedule, Wright had 20 points in the past three games going into last night and was seventh in the NPSL with 87 points. In the previous home game, Wright erupted for a team-tying five goals against the Wichita Wings.
Cooper had planned to start rookie Shawn Boehmcke tonight in Dayton to give Vaccaro a night off. But, with the Buffalo game postponed until March 29, Vaccaro probably will play tonight.
NOTES: Vaccaro and F Dan O'Keefe played despite missing several practices during the week due to the flu. Wright (sprained ankle) and Stankovic (strained groin) also played. . . Sloan, an Oakland Mills High grad and former Blast member, entered the game as Dayton's leading scorer with 69 points. A three-time All-America and Catawba College's career points -Z (144) and goals (59) leader, Sloan was tied for the NPSL lead in power-play goals with five. . . . Cooper's slogan for the night, as printed on the locker room blackboard: "Measure a man by the opposition it takes to discourage him." . . . The Spirit left after the game on a 10-hour bus trip to Dayton, Ohio, for tonight's rematch against the Dynamo. The team plans to return tomorrow. . . . Spirit team poster night, originally scheduled Friday, will be held Feb. 26 when the St. Louis Ambush visits.