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Front-line losses mean wins won't come easy Segota is counted on to help pick up slack; Spirit preview


The Spirit's offense all but disappeared during the off-season.

When it became apparent that five of the top seven scorers last season would not be returning, not to mention a leading defender, Spirit coach Mike Stankovic and general manager Drew Forrester knew they faced a major rebuilding job.

So everyone will need a scorecard when the Spirit opens its fifth National Professional Soccer League season tomorrow night at 7: 35 at the Baltimore Arena against against its former coach, Kenny Cooper, and his new team, the Tampa Bay Terror.

The reasons so many of last season's standouts aren't back are varied.

Citing scoring leader Franklin McIntosh's failure to show up for a key late-season practice as lack of dedication, Stankovic and Forrester suspended him for the final two regular-season games and the playoffs. The break in the relationship was irreparable.

Kevin Sloan, John Garvey and Dave Vaudreuil, the Nos. 2, 4 and 5 scorers, were lost to Major League Soccer, the new outdoor league. Jason Maricle, the No. 7 scorer, joined his brother-in-law in a vinyl-sign business in Tulsa.

And Omid Namazi, a strong defender, was selected by the Philadelphia Kixx in the NPSL expansion draft.

"It's not easy when you lose so many front-line players," Stankovic said.

To the nucleus of 11 returnees the Spirit added Branko Segota, 35, who has played on 10 indoor championship teams and is one of six indoor players with more than 500 goals. Segota hasn't played competitively since June 1995, when he hurt his knee.

"There's no question he'll be a major contributor," Forrester said. "But it takes longer to bounce back at 35 than when you're 25. It's not just Branko's soccer ability we want. We'll benefit from his willingness to help young players, his presence in the locker room and his playoff experience."

From two tryout camps in his native Yugoslavia this summer, Stankovic culled Nesko Milovanovic, 21, and Sasa Zoric, 22. Milovanovic led the Spirit in scoring in its two exhibitions with four goals.

"They're ready now to play indoor soccer," Forrester said. "They have extensive professional experience already. Of course, there will be bumps along the way and they won't be instant All-Stars."

From a tryout here at the start of training camp, the Spirit distilled Michael Henning, former Towson High and Randolph-Macon star. The club also signed territorial draft choice Todd Hicks (Bowie High, Towson State).

"We're pursuing young but experienced players who we hope will be long-term contributors," Forrester said. "In the past few months, especially, our focus has been on youth."

The Spirit is just one of the NPSL teams hit hard by Major League Soccer. Thirty-three players from NPSL rosters last season played in MLS over the summer.

In the early weeks of the season, Forrester says, there could be still more changes. One could be the acquisition of Paul Wright, who led the Spirit in scoring in 1993-94 and played for the Kansas City Wiz of MLS this year.

"The key is we would have to have him all season, and that's what we've been talking about," Forrester said. "We may be closer [to signing him] than we were a few weeks ago, although we don't expect him to suddenly show up for opening night."

Spirit roster

No. Name Pos. Age

0 Cris Vaccaro GK 38

1 Joe Mallia GK 26

4 Michael Henning M 22

5 Mike Stankovic D 39

7 Sasa Zoric M 22

8 Lance Johnson D 26

9 Bobby Joe Esposito M 31

11 Jamie Christie M 25

14 Nesko Milovanovic F 21

16 Jim McCombs GK 24

17 Todd Hicks D 21

19 Jason Dieter D 26

20 Branko Segota F 35

21 Barry Stitz M 26

22 Ronnie Simmons D 32

23 Brad Smith F 31

Coach: Mike Stankovic.

Assistant coach: Cris Vaccaro.

'96-97 schedule

Date Opponent Time

Sat. Oct. 19 Tampa Bay 7: 35 p.m.

Fri. Oct. 25 at St. Louis 8: 35 p.m.

Sat. Oct. 26 at Tampa Bay 7: 05 p.m.

Sat. Nov. 2 Cleveland 7: 35 p.m.

Sat. Nov. 9 at Harrisburg 7: 05 p.m.

Sat. Nov. 16 Cincinnati 7: 35 p.m.

Fri. Nov. 22 Philadelphia 7: 35 p.m.

Tues. Nov. 26 at Columbus 7: 35 p.m.

Sat. Nov. 30 Kansas City 7: 35 p.m.

Fri. Dec. 6 Wichita 7: 35 p.m.

Sat. Dec. 7 Milwaukee 7: 35 p.m.

Fri. Dec. 13 at Tampa Bay 7: 05 p.m.

Sat. Dec. 14 Harrisburg 7: 35 p.m.

Sat. Dec. 21 at Philadelphia 7: 05 p.m.

Fri. Dec. 27 Philadelphia 7: 35 p.m.

Sun. Dec. 28 at Cincinnati 2: 05 p.m.

Fri. Jan. 3 Harrisburg 7: 35 p.m.

Sat. Jan. 4 at Harrisburg 7: 05 p.m.

Sun. Jan. 5 at Cleveland 3: 05 p.m.

Sat. Jan. 11 Buffalo 7: 35 p.m.

Sun. Jan. 12 Tampa Bay 5: 05 p.m.

Sat. Jan. 18 Detroit 7: 35 p.m.

Wed. Jan. 22 at Edmonton 9: 35 p.m.

Fri. Jan. 24 Philadelphia 7: 35 p.m.

Sat. Jan. 25 at Tampa Bay 7: 05 p.m.

Sun. Feb. 2 at Milwaukee 2: 05 p.m.

Fri. Feb. 7 at Wichita 8: 35 p.m.

Thurs. Feb. 13 at Philadelphia 7: 35 p.m.

LTC Sat. Feb. 15 Columbus 7: 35 p.m.

Sun. Feb. 16 St. Louis 5: 05 p.m.

Sat. Feb. 22 at Kansas City 8: 35 p.m.

Fri. Feb. 28 Edmonton 7: 35 p.m.

Sat. Mar. 1 Harrisburg 2: 05 p.m.

Sun. Mar. 2 at Toronto 2: 05 p.m.

Tues. Mar. 4 Tampa Bay TBA

Sun. Mar. 9 at Buffalo 1: 05 p.m.

Fri. Mar. 21 at Detroit 7: 35 p.m.

Sat. Mar. 22 at Harrisburg 7: 05 p.m.

Fri. Mar. 28 Toronto 7: 35 p.m.

Sat. Mar. 29 at Philadelphia 7: 05 p.m.

Pub Date: 10/18/96

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