CLEVELAND -- The Spirit was hamstrung against the Cleveland Crunch last night.
Playing without starting goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro in the second half, the Spirit fell to the Crunch, 19-14, in the Cleveland State University Convocation Center.
Cleveland, which has won four in a row, ended its losing streak against the Spirit at five games.
The Spirit squandered a 10-7 halftime lead and fell one game behind the Crunch in the American Division.
Vaccaro, a Crunch nemesis who once played for Cleveland, gave way to Joe Mallia in the second half. Vaccaro missed the previous six games with an injured hamstring.
Crunch forward Hector Marinaro, who also missed his team's previous six games with a leg injury, scored four times.
Led by Marinaro, the league MVP in 1992-93 and runner-up last season, the Crunch dominated the third quarter. Marinaro scored twice, including a three-pointer, to help the Crunch lead, 14-10, heading into the final 15 minutes.
In the fourth quarter, the Spirit moved within one, at 15-14, before Marinaro sealed the outcome with two more scores.
Marinaro's three-pointer, one minute into the third quarter, was his 500th career goal and tied the score, 10-10. It came on a restart pass from Zoran Karic.
Karic made another pinpoint restart pass seven minutes later, this time to Glenn Carbonara. A defender not known for his shot, Carbonara nonetheless toe-poked the ball past Mallia.
Marinaro capped a 3-on-2 break with a solid shot from the middle to make it 14-10.
Baltimore outscored the Crunch, 10-5, in the second quarter to take the 10-7 advantage at halftime.
The Spirit took its first lead midway through the quarter, when Tarik Walker ripped a three-pointer past Crunch goalkeeper Otto Orf to make it 5-3.
Spirit forward Brad Smith scored off a nifty spin move on the right flank, but the Crunch scrambled back to tie, 7-7, on goals by Marinaro and Matt Garey.
Garey's goal, a left-footer, was his first as a professional. It came with two minutes left in the half.
The Spirit, however, responded with a three-pointer by Tim Witt
man, assist Kevin Sloan, at 14:33.
In the first quarter, each team appeared sluggish, and scoring opportunities did not come easily.
Karic created his own shot midway at the six-minute mark, and made it pay off for the first points of the game.
He received a pass on the right wing and went one-on-one against Spirit defender Lance Johnson. Using nifty footwork, Karic slipped around Johnson and punched the ball past Vaccaro.
Vaccaro made sure the Spirit deficit remained at two with a diving block of Karic's three-point attempt just before the quarter ended.
The Crunch struggled offensively in part because Orf's releases, normally long and accurate, missed their targets.
A game that occurs in the second month of a seven-month season rarely qualifies as must-win.
Last night's game was no exception, for either team. From the Crunch perspective, however, it rated as important.
The Crunch and Spirit are the two best teams in the league; whoever won would be in first place in the American Division. Yet vying to be atop the standings was a mere sideshow for the Crunch relative to this showdown.
"It isn't a must-win from the season standpoint," Marinaro said before the game, "but it might be from the psychological standpoint. We have to prove to ourselves we can beat these guys."