Spirit adds Segota, hoping he's final piece of title puzzle Indoor superstar, 34, signs two-year contract

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Branko Segota had just been introduced as the newest member of the Spirit yesterday when he was asked if half of his 10 championship rings had been won in title series played at the Baltimore Arena.

Segota smiled.

"Not half. Four," he said. "But there was one other series when I was with the New York Arrows in which we beat the Blast [the defunct team that played in the old Major Indoor Soccer League] in an early round. . . . I've had a lot of success in Baltimore."

Now, maybe, the home team can benefit from it.

The Spirit has signed Segota, 34, possibly the best indoor soccer player in the world, to a two-year contract that will run through Sept. 30, 1998.

Salary figures were not disclosed, but Spirit president Drew Forrester said the deal "puts him among the highest-paid players" in the National Professional Soccer League, where salaries range from $26,000 to $100,000.

Forrester compared the signing of Segota with the signing of Stan Stamenkovic by the Blast after the 1982-83 season. It was then, after another loss in the finals to San Diego and Segota, that the Blast went after Stamenkovic, a great goal-scorer. He arrived with bad knees and promised to bring Baltimore a championship.

This spring, after finally getting out of the first round of the NPSL playoffs, the Spirit lost a five-game series, 3-1, to the eventual NPSL champion Cleveland Crunch. At that point, team owner Bill Stealey asked Forrester and Spirit coach Mike Stankovic what they needed to get to the top.

Segota's name was at the top of their wish lists.

"To me, Branko is to indoor soccer what Cal Ripken is to baseball and what Johnny Unitas was to football," Stankovic said after the news conference at BWI Airport, where Segota stopped on his way to visit his family in Croatia.

"He will improve our team. He will give us a different balance and he will make everyone who plays with him better. He is 34, which is pretty young in the indoor game. His talents and skills are still sharp."

Yesterday, Segota, who has had two operations on his knee this year, said the knee is "close to 100 percent," but stopped just short of promising an NPSL title.

"It is the only league in which I have not won a championship," said Segota. "And it will be a great challenge for me to bring Baltimore a championship. I think all they need is one spark more and I think I can bring that.

"But I can't promise now -- maybe later I can do that, after I see the team and see how we jell together. I hope I can."

Segota played 11 years in the MISL and spent the past two with Las Vegas of the Continental Indoor Soccer League. His first season with Las Vegas, he averaged 2.4 points a game and led the Dustdevils to the CISL championship.

Last season, Segota averaged 3.7 points over nine games before hurting his knee. He is one of just four players to have scored more than 500 goals in the indoor game.

"I think our whole team is excited," said Spirit defender Omid Namazi. "I don't think you can find a more experienced player. With his savvy, he could very well be the difference."

That, of course, is what the Spirit is banking on.

"I thought we played Cleveland pretty even," said Forrester. "I thought the only difference, our only deficiency, was finishing. I think when Branko gets a look at the size of the goals in our league, his eyes are going to get as big as saucers."

Pub Date: 5/11/96

Segota's career highlights Nine-time Major Indoor Soccer League All-Star.

Member of MISL's All-Decade Team of 1980s.

Second-leading scorer in MISL history (841 points).

Second-leading playoff scorer in MISL history (179 points).

North American Soccer League Outdoor Player of the Year in 1984.

One of four players in indoor soccer history to score 500 or more goals.

1994 Continental Indoor Soccer League Championship Series MVP.

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