Nobody is owning up to the words on the blackboard in the Spirit's locker room. But no matter.
Coach Mike Stankovic says they were there when he arrived yesterday morning. He didn't launch a Baltimore Arena-wide search for the author, because, frankly, he rather liked the words.
In bold capital letters, they proclaimed: "WE'RE BACK."
Back as in two wins in three games since Stankovic became head coach. Back as in disciplined play. Back as in a stiff defense.
The Spirit trounced the Canton Invaders, 14-4, last night before 2,318 at the Arena, taking another step toward reducing to a dim memory its eight-losses-in-11-games stretch that drove Dave MacWilliams to step down as coach.
Kevin Sloan had three goals, but it was the Spirit defense that won this one.
"We're playing total defense," said defender Ronnie Simmons. "From the first guy all the way to the last guy in the back. We're not just relying on two guys."
Coming off a 20 save effort against the Detroit Rockers, goalie Cris Vaccaro had 13. In his past four starts, he has yielded 31 points, an average of 7.7.
Although it has won only three of its past six games, the Spirit has been throttling opponents during that period, holding them to an average of 8.8 points. The Spirit's season average of 13-plus is good only for a tie for sixth in the 13-team National Professional Soccer League.
Canton's four points represented a season low by a Spirit opponent. The previous low was six by the Cincinnati Silverbacks in a 14-6 loss to Baltimore in December.
The Spirit (15-12) climbed into a tie for third place in tne NPSL American Division with the idle Harrisburg Heat, which visits the Kansas City Attack tonight.
Stankovic was wary of Canton, which came in with a four-game losing streak, 12 losses in its last 13 games and a 4-25 record ranking as the worst in the league.
"The Chicago came in a stole a game from us," Stankovic said, referring to the Jan. 26 loss to the lowly (now 4-21) Power.
The Spirit surged to a 6-0 lead with four minutes gone in the second quarter on goals by Jason Maricle, John Garvey and Sloan. Garvey's was his 13th in nine games with the club.
Sloan, in scoring a hat trick, raised his points total to 106, putting him in position to become the fifth player in NPSL history to compile 150-point seasons back-to-back.
NOTES: Eight days after surgery to repair a tear in his abdominal wall, Dave Vaudreuil was kicking a ball around yesterday. He is expected to return to action Feb. 23, sooner than anticipated. Barry Stitz, out 12 of the past 13 games with a sprained ankle, is expected to miss Friday's against the Tampa Bay Terror as well. When he got hurt, he had played in a Spirit-record 90 straight.