Once Barry Stitz had his Towson State degree in hand and was contemplating his next step, the first person he turned to was Frank Olszewski.
It was Olszewski who had welcomed Stitz to Towson State soccer four years before as a scrawny 5-foot-7 kid out of Archbishop Curley High. After a decorated career in which he played on two East Coast Conference championship teams, Stitz hoped his college coach could unlock the door to pro soccer.
"He not only called the Spirit but other teams, too," Stitz said. "Frank has credibility around the country, and having him make the calls carried weight.
"If not for him, maybe I'd never have gotten the opportunity to try out. He's a big part of why I'm here. I still talk to him twice a week."
The Spirit's signing of Stitz in 1992 was the first link in what would become the club's Towson State pipeline. When Stitz played so well as a National Professional Soccer League rookie in 1992-93, Ricky Bush, Lance Johnson and Derrick Marcano paid close attention. They, too, played under Olszewski, and now are with the Spirit.
"I used to see them at Spirit games," Stitz said. "Some college players are really serious about soccer, playing spring and summer, too, and those three were. That's why I knew they'd jump at the chance to play at this level."
Watching Stitz compete successfully spurred the other three. Stitz scored the first goal in Spirit history Nov. 6, 1992, when the team trailed the Milwaukee Wave 9-0 in the opener, and went on to collect 63 points. He was named the Spirit's Rookie of the Year.
"Seeing Barry do it with his consistency and determination made us think we could do it," Marcano said.
Stitz, Bush, Johnson and Marcano are bonded by Towson State's run of ECC championships in 1989, 1990 and 1991. Johnson and Bush played on all three teams, Stitz played on two and was an assistant coach for the third and Marcano played on two after transferring from Essex Community College.
"Frank generates good kids, on and off the field," said Spirit vice president Drew Forrester.
The past six years, Olszewski has developed a strong relationship with Forrester. Olszewski coached in the Blast's College Showcase game in 1992 and advises the Spirit during the annual draft. This summer, he and Spirit coach Dave MacWilliams will co-direct the team's camps.
Olszewski says Stitz, Johnson, Marcano and Bush brought different ingredients to the championship teams. His rundown:
* Stitz: Has a passion for the game. . . . The brains of the Towson teams. . . . Great field sense.
* Johnson: Extraordinary athletic ability. . . . Honest worker. . . . A leader in the backfield. "In four years, I don't know if anyone ever beat him one-on-one for a goal."
* Bush: Versatile. . . . Mainly a midfielder at Towson, but a defender in the event of an injury and a forward if the Tigers were badly in need of a goal. . . . Even temperament; not easily frustrated.
* Marcano: Power and strength. . . . A forward, he was able to hold the ball when needed. . . . "When he was one-on-one, he could take a defender apart."
As a rookie, Marcano is the fourth link in the Towson State pipeline. No other school has more than one representative on the Spirit.
Opponent: Wichita Wings
Site: Baltimore Arena
Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WAMD (970 AM)
Tickets: 3,000 remaining
Outlook: The Spirit, which has averaged 5,064 in attendance, is expecting a crowd of 9,000, which would be its biggest of the season. The Spirit has lost two straight games, but is still in second place in the National Professional Soccer League's American Division, just ahead of the Harrisburg Heat. The
game will mark the return of Wichita's Paul Wright, who was the Spirit's leading scorer last season. Wright was shut out in his first encounter with his former team, a 13-7 victory for the Spirit on Dec. 30. The Spirit is 7-0 against National Division teams. This will be the second of three road games in as many days for the Wings, who will visit the Cleveland Crunch tomorrow. Spirit D Lance Johnson has been listed as questionable with a groin muscle strain and F Brad Smith (sprained knee) has been given probable status.