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Spirit's skid puts coach in bad mood


The scowl on coach Dave MacWilliams' face becomes more pronounced as the playoffs approach and the Spirit's losses mount.

Three straight defeats. Four in the past five games. Four straight defeats on the road.

This is the team that expects to gain the home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs by finishing second in the National Professional Soccer League's American Division?

"We're struggling," MacWilliams said after chewing out the team following last night's 16-12 loss to the St. Louis Ambush before 7,144 at the Baltimore Arena in the home finale. "Everyone has to look in the mirror and pick his game up."

Even the Baltimore Arena magic failed the Spirit this time. Carrying a 15-4 record and a 51-10 lifetime mark at the Arena into the game, the Spirit had reason to expect a return to prosperity.

But St. Louis' Mark Moser proved too much for the Spirit, just as he had Saturday night for the Harrisburg Heat, when he scored nine points in a 20-10 victory. Moser had four goals, including a three-pointer, for eight points to lead St. Louis.

"I'm upset," MacWilliams said, his voice rising. "Everyone on this team should be. Three in a row -- now isn't the time to do that."

MacWilliams conducted a team meeting three weeks ago to discuss such things as intensity, hard work and picking up play with the idea of entering the playoffs on a roll.

"The players said they'd pick it up, but talk's cheap," MacWilliams said. "It hasn't happened. You can't switch it on just as you go into the playoffs."

The Spirit will play Harrisburg in the playoffs, but will wind up without the home-field advantage if it can't hold second place. Only because Harrisburg has lost two straight since beating Baltimore on Friday night does the Spirit still have a one-game lead on the Heat.

"St. Louis and Harrisburg had three games in three days, but we played like we were the ones who had three in three," said Jon Parry. "We've gotten away from being a hard-working team.

"At crunch time, we're not mentally focused."

In the first game this season against National Division leader St. Louis, the Spirit had a 4-3 halftime lead, but surrendered it when the Ambush scored 10 unanswered points for a 14-6 advantage early in the fourth quarter. Moser scored three goals in barely three minutes during that run.

In the first half, the teams had only seven points combined. Moser, who broke the St. Louis record for points in one season Saturday night, scored his 177th point on a shootout against Spirit goalie Cris Vaccaro. Moser, who finished the night with 184 points, has scored at least one goal in 33 straight games.

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