Restless Esposito finds his level again Spirit's target man finds he had retired too soon


Bobby Joe Esposito was back home in Delanco, N.J., working as a financial planner and merely dabbling in soccer, when he had second thoughts about his retirement.

"I had been out of professional soccer for two years and had just turned 30," Esposito said. "I was playing some amateur soccer, but I wanted to play at the highest level I could for as long as I could."

He phoned Spirit vice president Drew Forrester, who had shown interest in him a few years ago during a National Professional Soccer League expansion draft.

Was Forrester still interested? He was.

Forrester had watched Esposito produce three straight seasons of 40-plus goals with the Kansas City Attack, and was particularly captivated by his playoff numbers -- 25 goals and 18 assists in 23 games.

And Forrester remembered the words of Esposito's coach at Rutgers, Bob Reasso: "You could wake Bobby Joe Esposito up at 3 a.m. and throw the ball at his head and he would make a goal out of it."

Spirit coach Dave MacWilliams will settle for a productive season from Esposito as the target man on the line with Kevin Sloan and Franklin McIntosh, who was the target man last season.

The target man often plays with his back to the goal and has to be rugged enough to absorb physical abuse.

"We wanted to move Franklin back to midfield, where he's more comfortable," MacWilliams said. "Bobby Joe has always been a target man in the pros. He's good at holding the ball, looking for the open man and laying it off with a good touch."

Esposito's approach to the position is different from that of the Spirit's other target man, Brad Smith, who's tough, stocky and strong. Esposito weighs only 155.

"The typical target man is more like Brad," Esposito said. "He can hold people off, get whacked and shrug it off. I have more movement -- pass it off with a one or two touch. I'm not big enough to hold the ball. I like to be sneaky."

After a Rutgers career during which he made first-team All-America and the Academic All-America team (3.72 grade-point average), Esposito joined two ill-fated pro teams. The Cleveland Force folded after his first season and the Los Angeles Lazers folded after his second.

He followed Keith Tozer, who had been the Lazers' coach, to Atlanta and then to Kansas City when the franchise moved there and became the Attack. But in 1994, after Kansas City's NPSL championship season, Esposito became restless.

"My daughter was 2 years old and my wife and I wanted to get back to New Jersey," Esposito said. "We had won the championship, but my contract negotiations weren't going well, so it was a good time to move on."

But now, two years later, the urge to play at a top level has returned.

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