Spirit triumphs in opener 6,196 see newcomers spark 25-18 win over archrival Harrisburg


Harrisburg jinx? What jinx?

The I-83 rival that has bedeviled the Spirit for three years finally may be ready to be taken.

After hammering Harrisburg in two exhibition games by the combined score of 50-23, the Spirit defeated the Heat, 25-18, last night in its National Professional Soccer League opener before 6,196 at the Baltimore Arena.

Of course, this wasn't the playoffs.

Of course, Harrisburg didn't have goalie Scoop Stanisic.

Harrisburg holds a 15-10 lead in its rivalry with the Spirit and has eliminated Baltimore from the playoffs in the first round for the past three seasons. The Heat has won only five times at the Arena, including three in playoffs.

Stanisic, Harrisburg's veteran goalie, has been suspended after refusing to report in the wake of a contract dispute.

In his place was Todd Hoffard, a 23-year-old out of Hartwick College who was playing in his first professional game. He was on Harrisburg's developmental squad last season until a knee injury sidelined him.

Hoffard surrendered 10 first-quarter points as the Spirit peppered him with 12 shots, then settled down.

Near the end, Harrisburg seized the initiative and the Spirit was hanging on, leading by a scant five points midway through the final quarter. Mike Stankovic dealt with the Heat's pressure by scoring the Spirit's final four points.

"We played real well the first half, but I wasn't pleased with the number of goals we gave up," said Spirit coach Dave MacWilliams, noting that Harrisburg scored five of its eight goals in the second half. "We got sloppy on our marks -- weren't tight enough. Harrisburg found the open man and scored. It was typical Harrisburg-Baltimore -- no team is ever out of it."

Newcomers led the Spirit. Bobby Joe Esposito, Zak Ibsen, David Vaudreuil and Ronald Simmons accounted for 15 points.

Esposito scored the first two goals of the game for a 4-0 edge, and the team stretched it to 15-6 by halftime. Ibsen also had two first-half goals, including a three-pointer.

Kevin Sloan followed Ibsen's with one of his own, which increased the lead to 10-2 with three minutes left in the first quarter. Vaudreuil opened the second quarter with a power-play goal.

"We let them back in the game, but a win's a win," Esposito said.

Said Ibsen: "The new guys had an impact, but everybody came in and did a job. When they put on the pressure, we stepped up and met it."

Harrisburg played without Stanisic and midfielder Danny Kelly, who's recovering from hernia surgery. The Spirit played without forward Brad Smith (sprained knee) and defender Omid Namazi (sprained ankle).

"Two out for each team, so things were more or less evened out," MacWilliams said.

In a surprising move, MacWilliams started Joe Mallia in goal over veteran Cris Vaccaro, 37. Mallia faced 27 shots and made nine saves.

"Joe was real sharp the last week or so," MacWilliams said. "Cris was out six or seven days early in camp with a hyper-extended arm, but he's OK now. Cris will start next week against Buffalo. In no way does this mean he's lost his job."

NOTES: Simmons, a 31-year-old rookie who had two goals, will be X-rayed Monday for a possible fractured wrist. Even with a cast, he doubtless would continue to play. . . . In the official NPSL season opener Friday night, the Tampa Bay Terror made " its debut under ex-Spirit coach Kenny Cooper with an 11-7 loss to the Canton Invaders. Canton had a 6-34 record last year, matching the Chicago Power for the worst record in the NPSL. Cooper will lead the Terror against the Spirit here Nov. 4.

Namazi may be back for Saturday's game here against the Buffalo Blizzard. Smith is expected to miss the Blizzard as well. . . . Franklin McIntosh needs 147 points to become the first NPSL player to reach 1,000.. . . . The Spirit unveiled its new mascot, a black cat named Jinx, in jersey No. 13.

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