It wasn't a change in his game that unleashed Kevin Sloan's career year. It was a change of teams.
After three years with the Dayton Dynamo, Sloan, along with goalie Joe Mallia, was traded to the Spirit this season for Clark Brisson and Rob Ukrop. It gave Sloan's game new life.
His 90 points for Dayton last season, then a career high, pale beside his numbers this year. He has established club records not only for points, 156, but goals, 69, and most points (11) and goals (six) in one game.
"After watching him play against us for a few years, we had an idea he could be a game-breaker," said Spirit vice president Drew Forrester, noting Sloan's No. 7 standing in the National Professional Soccer League's points race. "This is no fluke season. Kevin has become one of the premier scorers in the league."
Sloan attributes his season-long scoring spree to the fact he left a bad team -- Dayton was last in the American Division last season with a 15-25 record -- for a good one. The Spirit won the division title the past two years and is second entering tonight's road game against the St. Louis Ambush.
"Better team, better players," Sloan said. "I'm no different than I was the past three seasons. But with better players, better things happen."
Sloan welcomed the trade. He grew up in Columbia and was an All-Metro selection at Oakland Mills before going on to Catawba College. He had just gotten married. At 29, it was time to come home.
"My first season in Dayton [1988-89], I wasn't getting a lot of money and just wasn't enjoying it," Sloan said. "I played two years outdoors with the Maryland Bays and then one indoors with the Baltimore Blast, which treated players like pros."
The Major Soccer League folded, however, and Sloan wound up with Dayton again when the Dynamo picked him in the 1992 dispersal draft. He totaled 172 points in two seasons, missing 21 of the 80 games because of injuries.
"There's not a big difference in Kevin between then and now," said Brad Smith, who was Sloan's Dynamo teammate both seasons. "There are just better players around him."
Mallia, a Dayton teammate last season, sensed that Sloan was frustrated by the Dynamo's failures.
Although Sloan prospered as an outdoor player, making first-team All-American Professional Soccer League with the .
Bays in 1991, he seems better suited for the indoor game, in Spirit teammate Omid Namazi's estimation. They played together for the Bays for two seasons.
"He has that quick release and no one in the NPSL can match his work rate, the way he buzzes up and down the floor," Namazi said. "Great as he was outdoors, he's more dominant in a close space."
It took the Spirit-Dynamo trade to make that evident.
Opponent: St. Louis Ambush
Site: Kiel Center, St. Louis
Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WAMD (970 AM)
Outlook: The second-place Spirit, trying to hold off the third-place Harrisburg Heat so it will have the home-field advantage in the playoffs, has lost four straight on the road and three straight overall. The Spirit has a one-game edge over Harrisburg in the National Professional Soccer League's American Division with two regular-season games remaining. A win tonight and a Harrisburg loss tomorrow night will clinch second for the Spirit. In its first encounter of the season with the Ambush, Sunday in Baltimore, the Spirit lost, 16-12, as Mark Moser led St. Louis with four goals. The Ambush needs one win in its final two games to clinch the National Division title. For the Spirit, Tim Wittman (toe, calf) and Ricky Bush (fractured cheekbone) are out, and Jason Dieter (toe) and Michael Brady (groin) are questionable. The Spirit will conclude its regular season tomorrow night in Detroit against the Rockers.