Cleveland, 25-2 and qualified for the National Professional Soccer League playoffs -- what, already? -- certainly didn't show much respect for the Kansas City's league-record winning streak of 18 games last week, Crunching the Attack on the road, 19-9.
Kansas City coach Zoran Savic didn't seem very concerned even when his team was blistered by the archrival St. Louis Ambush, 23-5, four nights later, explaining, "This is the first time we've hit a bump in the road all season, and it came at the end of a stretch that saw us play 13 games in a month and a week."
A coach can refer to back-to-back blowout losses as "a bump in the road" when his team goes unbeaten from Nov. 25 to Jan. 30 and carries a 21-5 record into the last third of the season. "Despite what happens, we always look at where we are and vTC where we want to be," Savic said.
The Attack is atop the league's National Division by 3 1/2 games (over the Milwaukee Wave), and, according to the coach, "was able to 'let go' of the losses easily. It was no big deal; we ran into two hot teams. Remember, we let go of an 18-game win streak. We've got a couple of games at the end of the week, then we're off for eight days. We need the rest."
Speaking of men named Zoran, Zoran Karic, the league's top scorer from Cleveland will miss the NPSL All-Star Game in Wichita, Kan., Sunday with a strained Achilles' tendon. He had 10 points in the Americans' 29-24 win last year.
Neither All-Star squad figures to come up short in the coaching department when the divisions meet for the ninth time: Bruce Miller (Cleveland) and Keith Tozer (Milwaukee Wave) are the coaches of record, but all five of the league's active player-coaches, including Mike Stankovic of the Spirit, who will start for the Americans, were voted to the squads by the players. Baltimore's other representative is midfielder Franklin McIntosh, making his fifth appearance. The game will be tape delayed on ESPN at midnight.
The road to victory
While the NBA's Chicago Bulls have grabbed attention with their awesome 41-4 record, how about the Cleveland Crunch?
As if a 25-2 record isn't enough to make you gasp, check out the road record: 14-1.
A part of the formula for success in all sports is to play foes with a .500 or better record even while beating up on also-rans. Cleveland has done the latter expertly, going 14-0 against the Canton Invaders, Tampa Bay Terror and Cincinnati Silverbacks.
Canton (4-25) led the visiting Crunch 4-2 on Saturday before Cleveland scored the final 25 points to prevail, 27-4. The game was played before the Invaders' season-high crowd of 2,783.
Tampa Bay's visit to the Baltimore Arena on Friday (7:35 p.m.) will be on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. Monday. . . . NPSL home teams have only a .559 winning percentage (95-75), easily the worst in pro sports. . . . Harrisburg's Scoop Stanisic -- was there ever a better name for a soccer goalkeeper? -- continues as the NPSL's top-rated goalie with his 10.20 goals-against average. . . . The Jan. 20 Buffalo Blizzard-at-Harrisburg Heat game postponed by flooding will be played tonight. . . . American Division trailers Tampa Bay and Canton have yet to win against National foes in eight tries apiece. . . . The Spirit is eighth among the 14 NPSL franchises in home attendance average at 4,647 for 15 games. The league average is 4,719.
Opponent: Canton Invaders
Site: Baltimore Arena
Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WASA (1330 AM)
Outlook: This is the first meeting between the teams this season, to be followed by three more in Baltimore's next 10 games. Canton has won just four of 29 games this season but turned in a strong effort two days ago before losing to Wichita, 9-7; the previous night, the Invaders were hammered by Cleveland, 27-4. Canton is on a six-game losing streak. The Spirit is expected to have Brad Smith back from a hamstring pull that sidelined him for four games. Baltimore is coming off a weekend split under new coach Mike Stankovic, beating Detroit and losing by one point to Milwaukee.