As the Spirit players raced downfield, a vintage Franklin McIntosh play unfolded.
After he stole the ball from the Harrisburg Heat's Richard Chinapoo, McIntosh sensed that someone in a Spirit jersey was to his right. Once he brought Harrisburg goalie Todd Hoffard out of the goal, forced him to commit, McIntosh, instead of shooting himself, passed to the open man on his right, Zak Ibsen.
"All of a sudden the ball hit me on the foot," Ibsen recalled, smiling. "And then it was in the back of the net."
"A Christmas gift for Zak," coach Dave MacWilliams said, adding that it was wrapped and delivered by McIntosh in the Spirit's season-opening, 25-18 victory over Harrisburg on Saturday.
Although he is only 23 and a National Professional Soccer League rookie, Ibsen has been around. He has played in Europe and was a member of the U.S. national team.
"Franklin is brilliant, the best indoor playmaker I've seen, if not the best indoor player, period," Ibsen said as he prepared for the Spirit's game tomorrow against the Buffalo Blizzard at the Baltimore Arena.
McIntosh, an NPSL veteran, says he hopes his young teammates were paying attention when he collaborated with Ibsen. So does MacWilliams.
"A lot of guys would have shot if they had been in Franklin's position on that play," MacWilliams said. "He has such good vision and can find guys on either side of him. He threads the needle."
In his eighth NPSL season, McIntosh is the league's all-time points leader with 859. He is 32, but probably never has been in better shape to start a season.
He has dropped 10 pounds, to 178. While working Spirit youth camps last summer, he and a half dozen teammates also played for the Delaware Wizards of the U.S. Interregional Soccer League.
For the first time since 1990, McIntosh came to training camp. He invariably had a contract dispute with his former team, Harrisburg, and reported late. Last year, he didn't play until early December, after Harrisburg traded him to the Spirit.
"I was overweight when I got here because I had done nothing the previous three months," he said. "I made no effort to lose it."
When Spirit vice president Drew Forrester "made me a good contract offer early," McIntosh felt obliged to give the club an honest effort.
He willingly helped conduct the camps rather than return to his home in Atlanta, played for the Wizards and lost 10 pounds.
At McIntosh's request, MacWilliams moved him from forward, where he played last season with the Spirit, to his old midfield position, where he is more comfortable, creative and effective.
"I'm a better passer than a scorer," McIntosh said. "There are better opportunities to pass as a midfielder because you have the whole field to work with. As a target man [on the forward line] last season, I had my back to the goal a lot of the time and had only one-fifth of the field to work with."
After collecting 110 points, including a team-record 59 assists, in only 27 games last season, McIntosh might approach 1,000 by season's end. His six points in the opener leave him 141 shy.
If he hits 1,000, fine, it'll be an honor. He says he doesn't play for points, but "to win and have fun."