BLAINE, Minn. -- The under-19 Baltimore Spirit has proved to be explosive on offense. As with most successful soccer teams, however, a potent attack usually is initiated by an effective defense.
The Spirit, four-time defending Maryland Cup champs, outscored opponents 35-4 in five victories that earned the Baltimoreans their first U.S. Youth Soccer Region I crown.
"We play good team defense. That helps the offense," said striker Bryan Bugarin, whose seven goals in regional play were one fewer than those by midfielder Mike Henning. "Offense comes natural for us. We're naturally an attacking team."
The first Baltimore-area team in any age group to advance to the national tournament in seven years, the Spirit opens play in the Snickers USYS National Championships today with a McGuire Cup semifinal against the Salsa of Riverside, Calif., at the National Sports Center at 3 p.m. The other semifinal matches Vardar III of Livonia, Mich., against Countryside Lightning of Clearwater, Fla., at 6 p.m.
The championship match is scheduled for Sunday at 8:30 p.m., preceded by the third-place game at 5 p.m.
The Spirit is a mature side. Of its 16 players, 11 have completed TTC two years of college and five are sophomores, giving the squad )) more collegiate experience than any team ever in the nationals.
The Salsa, in comparison, has no college players.
"We'll be more fit and more physical than the other teams," said midfielder Matt Nesbitt.
Nesbitt agreed the Spirit's success starts in the back. "We try to get numbers behind the ball," said the son of coach Dave Nesbitt. Opponents "shouldn't be able to go down the middle. They're going to have to go over the top or on the outside. We should always have at least eight players behind the ball."
Also helping the Spirit is the close-knit nature of the team on which many players have been friends and teammates since adolescent days. For example, six team members graduated from Calvert Hall; four of those now play for UMBC.
On the Spirit are three Baltimore scholastic players of the year: Bugarin (1991), J. J. Kremer (1992) and Shane Dougherty (1993). They are an aggressive lot.
"Most of us, we've been on this team since we were little, even before high school. That helps," said sweeper Mike Barger. "We like running. We make it hard [for the opposition]. We're all over you all the time, never give you a chance to do anything."
BALTIMORE SPIRIT YOUTH ROSTER
Player, High school, College
Anthony Adams, Calvert Hall, UMBC
Fred Addison, Centreville (Va.), George Washington
Josh Baer, Centennial, James Madison
Jeremy Baker, Calvert Hall, Richmond
Mike Barger, Calvert Hall, Loyola
Bryan Bugarin, Calvert Hall, UMBC
Shane Dougherty, Fallston, Maryland
Chris Eatough, Fallston, Clemson
Daniel Gaertner, Atholton, Mount St. Mary's
Mike Henning, Towson, Randolph-Macon
Todd Hicks, Bowie, Towson State
J. J. Kremer, Calvert Hall, UMBC
Matt Nesbitt, Wilde Lake, George Washington
C. J. Norton, Rockville, UMBC
Russell Payne, Atholton, Maryland
Jorge Stecco, Calvert Hall, UMBC
Head coach: Dave Nesbitt
Assistant coach: Josh Flyr
Manager: Gerry Kremer