Scrutiny of the player deals made before and early in the season suggests the Spirit is the clear winner.
As the Spirit heads into the National Professional Soccer League's stretch run with a home game against the Dayton Dynamo tonight, it is in good position largely because of the players acquired this season.
With seven wins in the past 11 games, the Spirit is second in the American Division, 3 1/2 games behind the Cleveland Crunch. Among the leaders have been playmaker Franklin McIntosh, high-energy midfielder Kevin Sloan, goal specialist Jon Parry, target man Brad Smith and No. 2 goalie Joe Mallia.
"We really came out on top on all these deals," coach Dave MacWilliams said.
Sloan, Parry, McIntosh and Smith have scored 421, or 56 percent , of the team's 751 points. They rank No. 1, 2, 3 and 5, respectively, in Spirit scoring, with No. 4 Tim Wittman the only returnee in the top five.
Mallia has a 12-3 record in relief of Cris Vaccaro, against the combined 3-7 of Vaccaro's backups last season, Brian Hartlove and Shawn Boehmcke. Vaccaro told MacWilliams he has never felt this strong at this stage of a season.
In the previous two seasons, Vaccaro often felt compelled to play when he wasn't 100 percent because then-coach Kenny Cooper felt the team didn't have the same confidence in Hartlove and Boehmcke.
"My games have been spaced out well," Vaccaro said. "Joe's a very capable backup, and that takes the pressure off me. I used to play in all types of situations when I wasn't completely healthy."
The Spirit's first trade brought Sloan and Mallia from the Dynamo for Clark Brisson and Rob Ukrop.
Sloan is the Spirit's leading scorer with 142 points. Brisson was Dayton's No. 2 scorer with 63 points until he broke his leg in two places last weekend, ending his season. Ukrop has missed nine games with injuries.
"The midfield is the team's engine room, and Sloanie brings a lot of energy and hard work to it, which creates scoring chances," MacWilliams said.
Next was a trade with the Kansas City Attack for Parry for defender Eric Dade and future considerations. Parry has 115 points and Dade has yet to report to the Attack. The "future considerations" -- draft choices and/or cash -- will have to be top of the line to properly compensate Kansas City.
"We needed a bona fide scorer," MacWilliams said. "He can strike with either foot and is deadly around the box. He has eight game-winning goals."
In November, Smith was acquired from Dayton for cash, giving the team a target man so intense and physical that he tends to intimidate some defenders.
That left one piece of the puzzle missing. The Spirit needed a catalyst, a playmaker. It got one in McIntosh, acknowledged as the second-best playmaker in the league behind Cleveland's Zoran Karic. In the deal with the Harrisburg Heat for McIntosh, the Spirit gave up Tarik Walker and defender Steve Boardman.
"Creativity, play-making, has always been the strong part of my game," McIntosh said. "The only thing the team lacked when I got here was creativity."
McIntosh controls the ball so well that opponents can't focus so much on Sloan and Parry. Thanks largely to McIntosh, the Spirit is passing more.
=1 "We're more of a team now," MacWilliams said.