No warm welcome for Cooper, Terror Spirit deals ex-coach 12-10 loss in opener

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Former Spirit coach Kenny Cooper was talking before the game about his "great memories" of 15 years in Baltimore and how "special it is" to return to the Baltimore Arena.

"I can't think of a better place to play on opening night," he said. "Baltimore fans appreciate good soccer."

From Cooper's vantage point, there was no fodder for a great memory in last night's game. If it was special, it was only for Baltimore.

In the National Professional Soccer League opener for both teams, the Spirit defeated Cooper's Tampa Bay Terror, 12-10, before 5,187 at the Arena.

That leaves Cooper with an 0-4 record against his old team at the Arena as he enters his second season as Tampa Bay coach. He is 2-5 overall against the Spirit.

The Spirit had a 12-3 lead midway through the third quarter, but the Terror inched to within 12-10 on three unanswered goals, including a three-pointer by Jason Vanacour.

The Spirit got one goal each from seven players, including newcomers Branko Segota, Sasa Zoric and Albert Oni. The others were scored by Barry Stitz, Jason Dieter, coach Mike Stankovic and Bobby Joe Esposito.

"Overall, I'm pretty happy," Stankovic said. "We played well, but made some mistakes. We have a long way to go."

After a strong first half, Segota said, "We were disorganized in the second. We played their game. But that's because a lot of us are new. We knew we'd need a few games to work together."

The only major negatives were injuries. Defender Ronnie Simmons is lost for four to six weeks with a sprained knee ligament.

Goalie Cris Vaccaro was lost for the rest of the game when he sprained his right big toe making a sliding stop late in the first half. Joe Mallia replaced him. Vaccaro is questionable for next weekend's road games.

Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead on Carlos Zavala's power-play goal, but the Spirit stormed back with two-point scores by Stitz, Zoric and Esposito. Zoric, the rookie from Yugoslavia, started to take off his jersey, as if to throw it into the crowd, but apparently thought better of it and didn't.

The Terror's Chris Scotti made it 6-3 with two minutes left in the first half, but Oni, a former Essex CC and UMBC star, scored with 21 seconds left for an 8-3 halftime edge.

NOTES: Spirit defender Lance Johnson (knee surgery) missed the game; he may be ready for games Friday at St. Louis and Saturday at Tampa Bay. Defender Todd Hicks (twisted ankle) played despite his injuries. Two Terrors played college soccer here: rookie Marc Harrison was Loyola's third-leading scorer last fall and defender Erik Washington was a teammate of Hicks and Johnson at Towson State. In 14 years here as the Blast and then Spirit coach, Cooper compiled a 427-322 record with seven division titles, five trips to the finals and one championship, in the Major Indoor Soccer League in 1984 with the Blast. In its first four seasons in the NPSL, the Spirit tied the Kansas City Attack for the second-best record (101-59) behind the Cleveland Crunch (109-51).

Pub Date: 10/20/96

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