Spirit goal: more team speed and competition Open practice begins training camp tomorrow


In the end last season, the Spirit didn't have enough. A new coach, Dave MacWilliams, wasn't enough. Neither were 11 new players never before soiled by a playoff loss to the Harrisburg Heat.

Intent on getting past Harrisburg in the playoffs for the first time, after three years of failure, the Spirit will open training camp in preparation for its fourth National Professional Soccer League season tomorrow night at 6:30 at Baltimore Arena.

The 2 1/2 -hour session will be open to the public, and admission will be free. In addition to practice, there will be an autograph and photo period with the players.

MacWilliams, beginning his second season, will welcome more than 20 players, most of them back from last year, headed by Franklin McIntosh, Kevin Sloan and goalie/assistant coach Cris Vaccaro.

McIntosh, the team's leading playmaker, has lost 15 pounds and, according to MacWilliams, "looks the best he has in years."

McIntosh, Sloan, Vaccaro, Joe Mallia, Omid Namazi, Lance Johnson, Brad Smith, Jason Dieter and Barry Stitz helped MacWilliams conduct 12 camps for boys and girls ages 6 to 16 this summer.

Sloan, Smith, Mallia, McIntosh, Johnson, Namazi and Chris Morgan stayed in shape by playing for the Delaware Wizards of the U.S. Interregional Soccer League. Derrick Marcano also played in the USISL, for the Baltimore Bays.

Two familiar players will not be back and another is questionable.

Jon Parry, the club's No. 2 scorer last season, was selected by ex-Spirit coach Kenny Cooper for the Tampa Bay Terror in the NPSL expansion draft. Tim Wittman was released in May and spent the summer with the Pittsburgh Stingers of the Continental Indoor Soccer League.

Mike Stankovic, a six-time Major Soccer League All-Star who rejoined the Spirit midway through last season, is questionable. "We need to talk to see if Mike will fit in," MacWilliams said of the veteran, who will turn 39 in November.

MacWilliams is looking for two main things during training camp: more competition at every position and more team speed.

"We had competition at times last year," MacWilliams said. "I want it as a tool to push guys, to keep them aware there's always somebody else ready to step in. Competition breeds success."

Lack of speed was instrumental in the Spirit's third straight year of losing to Harrisburg in the playoffs. MacWilliams is bringing to camp a half-dozen new players, some of whom could provide it.

From a tryout he held in his native Philadelphia this summer, MacWilliams invited midfielder Mike Stillwagon, forwards Tommy Miller and Peter Schneiders, defender Jim McCombs and goalie Mark Eckert. Goalie Matt St. Jane of Baltimore also will be in camp.

Bobby Joe Esposito, 30, returning from a year's hiatus from soccer -- he worked for a financial services firm in New York City -- has a one-year Spirit contract. MacWilliams is particularly interested in Esposito's NPSL playoff numbers when he was with Kansas City -- 25 goals and 18 assists in 23 games.

"He has good vision and a good touch," MacWilliams said.

The Spirit isn't sure when or if newcomer Jeff Rogers will report. As compensation for the loss of Parry in the expansion draft, the Spirit has the rights to the speedy Rogers. Tampa Bay picked him from the Kansas City Attack in the draft and traded him to the Spirit for the right to claim Parry.

Rogers, 30, a 5-foot-5 dynamo, had the most productive of his five NPSL seasons last year with 84 points in 34 games. In the playoffs, he had seven goals and three assists in eight games.

"Rogers is super quick," MacWilliams said. "He would fill the Parry void. But he's a new father and he's somewhat settled in the Kansas City area. We're waiting to see what he wants to do."

There is time. The Spirit will open its regular season Oct. 21 at Baltimore Arena against an opponent yet to be determined.

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