It's a new season, but the Spirit still can't beat the Harrisburg Heat when it counts.
After two exhibition victories over Harrisburg this month, the Spirit reverted to its regular-season and playoff ways, losing, 21-15, last night before 4,626 at the Baltimore Arena.
It was the Spirit's sixth straight loss to Harrisburg, including two in last April's National Professional Soccer League playoffs. The Heat leads the overall rivalry, 11-5.
"They outworked and outhustled us," Spirit coach Dave MacWilliams said after his team blew an early 6-0 lead. "That won't be a characteristic of my team, I'll tell you that."
The Spirit may have lost Tarik Walker for as long as six weeks after he tore the lateral cartilage in his right knee. Dr. John O'Donnell, a team physician, said a decision on whether arthroscopic surgery is necessary will be made tomorrow or Tuesday.
For the Spirit (2-1), which took a team-record 54 shots, it was the first defeat of the season, and Harrisburg's first win after an opening-game loss.
Harrisburg scored twice in the third period on goals hotly disputed by goalie Cris Vaccaro to boost its lead back to 17-11 after Barry Stitz's three-pointer brought the Spirit within 13-11.
Scott Henderson got the first one when Vaccaro caught the ball just inside the cage. Vaccaro complained bitterly.
Eighteen seconds later, Vaccaro caught a shot by Jason Neidell at the same spot -- just inside the left side of the cage.
Vaccaro again complained vehemently, this time drawing a five-minute misconduct penalty.
Neidell was knocked cold on the play after hitting his head on the post. The Heat said he suffered a concussion.
"We allowed things to get to us that took us out of the game," MacWilliams said, declining to name names but apparently including assistant coach Vaccaro in his criticism.
He said the game wasn't more important because the opponent was archrival Harrisburg.
"It doesn't matter who we play, whether it's Harrisburg or Cleveland or whoever," MacWilliams said. "It's just another divisional game."
MacWilliams pointed out that, in addition to being new to the Spirit himself, nine players are in their first year with the team.
"We've heard the Baltimore-Harrisburg history," he said. "But we're trying to create our own history. That chapter is closed."
The Spirit jumped to a 6-0 lead on two goals by Tim Wittman and one by rookie Derrick Marcano.
The final 58 seconds of the period were punctuated by a flurry of goals, including a three-pointer by Harrisburg's Brian Marshall and a two-pointer by Billy Reinhardt, who spent the past two seasons with the Spirit.
The Spirit held an 8-7 edge entering the second quarter, but the Heat scored six unanswered points for a 13-8 halftime advantage. Danny Kelly got his second goal of the game during the period and former Calvert Hall star Rob Elliott got his first.
NOTES: Stitz played despite a slightly pulled hamstring. . . . Steve Boardman, who played for the Spirit in 1992-93 and the Detroit Rockers last season, made his first appearance of the season after rejoining the Spirit on Wednesday. . . . Newcomers Jean Harbor and Philip Gyau, recovering from injuries from the outdoor season, are scheduled to make their Spirit debuts against the Canton Invaders Friday or the defending NPSL champion Cleveland Crunch on Saturday. Both games are at the Baltimore Arena. . . . Five Harrisburg mainstays from last season -- Franklin McIntosh, Denis Hamlett, Bill Becher, John Prow and George Valenzuela -- are still holding out. . . . Three players from the Blast's 1983-84 Major Indoor Soccer League championship team were involved in last night's game. Two were opposing coaches Jim Pollihan of Harrisburg and MacWilliams, the third a 20-year-old defender named Tim Wittman. . . . Some fans took advantage of the Spirit's arrangement with the CFLs by presenting their stubs from yesterday's football game and getting a free ticket with the purchase of any seat of equal value. The Spirit will distribute flyers at the Canton and Cleveland games next weekend promoting the CFLs' home playoff game Nov. 12.