Spirit ousted Cooper quits


No sooner had the game, and the Spirit's season, ended than Spirit coach Kenny Cooper took the public-address microphone

and made a startling announcement.

He said he was resigning after 14 seasons as coach of a Baltimore indoor soccer team.

"I promised my wife and children that if we didn't win the championship this year I would step down as coach," Cooper told the Baltimore Arena crowd of 6,291 after the Spirit lost to the Harrisburg Heat, 13-7, last night and was eliminated from the National Professional Soccer League playoffs.

Later, in the locker room, near tears and his voice breaking, Cooper said that although he was resigning as coach, he would remain as general manager and president.

"When you keep getting closer and closer but don't win the championship, it's only fair to the fans that a change be made," said Cooper, who coached the Spirit for the past two years and before that the Baltimore Blast for 12 years.

Goalie Cris Vaccaro was also in tears. He's retiring as a player, not because, at 35, his skills have eroded, but because of the bitterly disappointing way the season ended.

"This was the most disappointing season of my career," Vaccaro said. "Out of my 14 years, I thought this was the team that would do it. To have it end this way. . . ."

The Spirit finally ran out of reasons and excuses why it couldn't beat the Heat.

They were numerous. Ever since last year, when the top-seeded Spirit was eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by No. 4 Harrisburg, there was always something that kept the Spirit from handling the Heat.

Don't match up physically. Tough to win in their arena. Heat's on a roll. Took Harrisburg too lightly because it's the fourth seed. Games were meaningless because the Spirit already had clinched the title. Injuries to key players.

None of those had merit last night. No more excuses. One more loss and the season was over. And the team was at home, where it was nearly invincible, with a regular-season record of 18-2. There would be no excuse for losing to Harrisburg this time, not at home.

But in a repeat of last year, fourth-seeded Harrisburg swept the top-seeded Spirit in two games.

The teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 7, but the Heat ran off the game's final three goals.

In the NPSL American Division finals, the Heat will play the winner of the Cleveland Crunch-Buffalo Blizzard series.

Harrisburg's Franklin McIntosh had a hand in the game's first five points, scoring a three-point goal and assisting on Angelo Panzetta's two-pointer. That, plus a one-point goal later in the first half, gave McIntosh, the NPSL's all-time points leader, 35 points against the Spirit this season.

The Spirit was scoreless in the first period on 0-for-12 shooting, but began to make a game of it in the second quarter. Goran Hunjak, Rusty Troy and Clark Brisson scored to pull the Spirit within 7-5 at halftime.

After studying the film of Friday night's 21-9 opening loss, Cooper concluded that only Troy, Doug Neely, Lance Johnson, Ricky Bush and Vaccaro "rose to the required level" for a playoff game.

"We went over and over this in the team meeting and got it out in the open," Cooper said. "We didn't have the intensity collectively."

NOTES: Spirit player-assistant coach Mike Stankovic sat out the game with a sprained ankle. . . . Scoring leader Paul Wright played with a tender ankle, suffered when Bob Lilley leg-tackled him in the opener. . . . Rookie Tarik Walker and Clark Brisson, who missed the opener with pulled hamstrings, were in action last night.



(Best of three)

American Division

Spirit vs. Harrisburg

(Harrisburg wins series, 2-0)

Friday -- H'burg 21, Spirit 9

Yesterday -- H'burg 13, Spirit 7

Cleveland vs. Buffalo

(Series tied, 1-1)

Wednesday -- Cleve. 24, Buf. 16

Friday -- Buf. 16, Cleve. 12

Today -- At Cleveland

National Division

St. Louis vs. Milwaukee

(St. Louis wins series, 2-1)

Tuesday -- Milw. 29, St.L. 20

Friday -- St.L. 12, Milw. 8

Yesterday -- St.L. 11, Milw. 10

Detroit vs. Wichita

(Detroit wins series, 2-0)

Thursday -- Det. 15, Wichita 14

0$ Yesterday -- Det. 19, Wichita 16

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