The evening started pleasantly for the Buffalo Blizzard's Tony Meola, but it soon turned ugly.
Meola, the U.S. World Cup team goalie and captain last summer, was pummeled in the first half and the Spirit went on to defeat the Blizzard, 22-6, last night before 6,810 at Baltimore Arena.
The Spirit took a 12-4 halftime lead and coasted. The win broke a three-game losing streak to Buffalo in which the Spirit was outscored, 63-26. One defeat, 30-14 on Dec. 9, represented the largest losing margin in club history.
Rookie Jamie Christie scored his second hat trick of the season and Mike Stankovic had two goals to help the Spirit raise its home record to 12-4.
"It felt good to score on someone who was in the World Cup," Christie said, "even though it was indoors."
Meola was the first Buffalo player introduced before the game, and the pony-tailed former Virginia star wearing jersey No. 0 received warm applause. The other Blizzard players were met by scattered boos.
Meola's welcome quickly cooled. The Spirit scored 10 straight points to take a 10-2 lead midway through the second period.
The game was all but over, which served to strengthen the words of the Spirit's Kevin Sloan when he was asked beforehand how he felt about playing against Meola.
"He's no different than any other goalie," said Sloan, the Spirit's leading scorer this season. "He's still getting used to indoor soccer. Sure he's big and quick, but shots come from closer than outdoors. It's an adjustment."
The opposing goalies were in marked contrast. The Spirit's Cris Vaccaro, who at 6 feet, 175 pounds is thinner and shorter than the 6-foot-1, 207-pound Meola, is a 15-year indoor veteran with a 249-179 record. Meola is a rookie who has started nine games.
Meola came into the game with a tidy 9.38 points-against average and one of the season's few shutouts. Although he made 18 saves, his average jumped to 10.57 and his record dipped to 4-5.
"I'm obviously disappointed because we have been playing better than this," Meola said. "We've had difficulty on the road [3-11]. You do what you can do and tonight it wasn't enough."
Now, after two months in the National Professional Soccer League, Meola will have only two more games before leaving next week for a lead role in the off-Broadway play, "Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding," for a five-week stint. He may or may not be back for the playoffs.
"This may be the last time we see him," Spirit coach Dave MacWilliams said. "You look at Buffalo, and he's part of it, but we're not facing Tony, we're facing Buffalo."
Afterward, that was the way Vaccaro looked at it, too. Never mind Meola, focus on Buffalo.
"We scored early and often and knocked them off their game," Vaccaro said.
Buffalo's early lead on Dean Kelly's two-pointer was short-lived. The Spirit surged to a 6-2 first-quarter lead and scored four more points for the 10-2 bulge before Paul Dougherty ended Buffalo's drought 9:41 into the second quarter.
Stankovic and Christie both had two goals in the first half. Jon Parry, who had only one in the previous three games, added one and Barry Stitz's assist left him two points shy of his career high of 63 as a rookie in 1992-93.
NOTES: Buffalo's John Maessner and Kris Kelderman played with Meola on Virginia's 1989 NCAA Division I championship team. . . . The Spirit's Omid Namazi and Stankovic played despite sore ankles. . . . Parry is on the verge of joining the $H Spirit's 100 points-in-one-season club headed by Goran Hunjak (twice), Rusty Troy, Joe Koziol, Paul Wright and current team leader Sloan. . . . Sloan is on pace for a 151-points season that would break Wright's team record of 146 last year.
Buffalo .. ..2 ..2 ..2 ..0 ..-- ..6
Baltimore ...6 ..6 ..4 ..6 ..--..22