The first time Dave MacWilliams saw Brad Smith play soccer, it was almost as if he were looking at himself in an old game film.
"Brad reminds me of myself when I was playing," said MacWilliams, the Spirit's coach.
Intense. Vocal. Works feverishly. Mentally and physically into the game. Sturdy. Unafraid of contact. Can't be intimidated.
That is what MacWilliams sees in Smith, the 5-foot-9, 176-pound forward purchased Nov. 1 from the Dayton Dynamo.
After 15 games with the Spirit, Smith is providing the physical play that MacWilliams wanted, and ranks fourth on the team in points with 30.
"Brad is feisty, a competitor, full of emotion and heart," MacWilliams said as the Spirit prepared for tonight's road game against the Buffalo Blizzard.
"He has helped us. He knows how to hold the ball and won't shy away. Some forwards can be intimidated. He isn't one of those. I fought hard, too, and worked my tail off. Brad makes up for a lot of things with hard work."
Until he graduated from high school in Culver City, Calif., Smith, 29, was a bigger star in football than he was in soccer.
Son of Skip Smith, a former UCLA football star, Brad, 29, was the Los Angeles Times High School Player of the Year in 1983. A tailback, he played on the same team with Cornell Lake, now the Pittsburgh Steelers' strong safety, and was wooed by Southern Cal, UCLA, Michigan and Washington.
Only during the winter did he focus on soccer, the high school season for that sport in California. Culver City's goalie was Carlos Pena, now with Smith's former team, Dayton.
"It seems like I've been playing with Carlos all my life," Smith said.
Smith took his football recruiting trip to Southern Cal, but when the school canceled its soccer program, he backed off. He had entertained the notion of playing both sports.
"I had aspirations of playing soccer at a higher level than most colleges were offering at that time," Smith said. "I had been drafted by the outdoor San Diego Sockers and the indoor Cleveland Force, but American players, especially young ones, weren't getting much opportunity to play."
So Smith went to Europe and played six seasons in Germany, two in the First Division, the country's top soccer level. Since returning, he has been a soccer gypsy, playing for the Wichita Wings, Salt Lake Sting, Los Angeles Heat, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Los Angeles Salsa and, the past two seasons, Dayton.
He works to bring to the Spirit what he brought to his previous teams.
"I try to be a big, strong postup forward who can score and help us win," he said.
Opponent: Buffalo Blizzard
Site: Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, N.Y.
Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WAMD (970 AM)
Outlook: The Spirit (10-5), coming off a win over the archrival Harrisburg Heat, is in second place, one game behind the Cleveland Crunch (11-4) in the National Professional Soccer League's American Division. Buffalo (7-6) is tied for fourth but has won four straight, including a 30-14 rout of the Spirit 13 days ago. Tony Meola, a veteran of the U.S. 1990 and 1994 World Cup teams, might make his NPSL debut tonight. Cris Vaccaro is probable in the goal for the Spirit despite a sore back. The league suspended Tim Wittman for this game for fighting in the victory over Harrisburg. Buffalo's Paul Dougherty is the NPSL's No. 4 scorer (69 points) and the Spirit's Kevin Sloan is No. 5 (62).