Spirit coach Dave MacWilliams wasn't happy that his team nearly squandered a 13-point lead in the second half last night, even after Barry Stitz's two goals ensured 19-13 victory over the Dayton Dynamo at the Baltimore Arena.
"That kind of performance won't get it done in the playoffs," said MacWilliams. "We were too casual out there. We lost our intensity and went through the motions. It will be easy to lose a playoff game if we play like that."
MacWilliams has spent all season trying to have the Spirit peak for the National Professional Soccer League playoffs, and now ,, there are only five regular-season games left before Baltimore will most likely face its longtime nemesis, the Harrisburg Heat, in the opening round.
MacWilliams was asked whether the absence of four starters might have had something to do with the Spirit's lapse after it led 15-2.
"There are no excuses for letting Dayton back in this game," he said after watching the Dynamo rally for 11 straight points to reduce the lead to 15-13 with 6:52 left in the game. "I could see it if this had been a nip-and-tuck game from the start."
Spirit midfielder/ forward Franklin McIntosh, who had one goal and four assists, saw things a little differently.
"The coach is never happy," said McIntosh. "He's always crying. We were in control of this game all the way and knew when we had to turn it back on."
Stitz picked up the intensity at the right time for the Spirit, scoring two goals in less than three minutes off assists from goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro.
Vaccaro sent two perfect passes to Stitz for the goals that enabled Baltimore to pull away for the victory.
Stitz scored with 4:03 left to give the Spirit a 17-13 lead and finished it off with a beautiful header off a high bouncing pass from Vaccaro with 1:22 remaining for a 19-13 advantage.
Stitz went flying into the air and in one twisting motion sent the ball into the net before Dayton sixth at tacker Tony Bono could recover.
That goal enabled Stitz to finish with a hat trick, as did teammate Jason Dieter. Vaccaro had three assists for the Spirit.
Stitz, like MacWilliams, wasn't too happy with the late fade, but he said: "At least it kept the game interesting. I think we're ready for the playoffs. We always seem to have somebody stepping up for us at the right time."
Dieter's three goals were not quite as spectacular as Stitz's, but they helped the Spirit (23-12) build the 15-2 lead with 24 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Spirit played without Tim Wittman, who was out with a pulled calf muscle and sore toe, and three other starters (Jon Parry, Lance Johnson and Brad Smith), who were serving one-game suspensions.
Opponent: Wichita Wings
Site: Kansas Coliseum, Wichita
TV/Radio: ESPN2/WWLG (1360 AM), WAMD (970 AM)
Outlook: The Spirit leads the series with the Wings 2-0. The Spirit will play without D Tim Wittman (pulled calf muscle and sore toe) for the second straight game. Also out of action will be D Ricky Bush (broken cheek bone). Returning to the lineup after one-game suspensions will be Jon Parry, Brad Smith and Lance Johnson.