The Spirit reached into the past for help on the eve of its first road trip of the season.
Doug Neely, a third-team All-National Professional Soccer League defender for the Spirit in 1992-93 and 1993-94, signed yesterday and will be available for tonight's game in St. Louis and tomorrow night's in Tampa Bay.
Neely, who has spent the past few years in California with the U.S. beach soccer team and the Anaheim Splash of the !c Continental Indoor Soccer League, will bolster the defense following the loss of Ronnie Simmons for six weeks with a torn knee ligament.
Spirit coach Mike Stankovic takes strong exception to the notion that a road trip is something to approach with trepidation.
"Wasn't this team 8-3 on the road under me last season?" Stankovic asked, arching his eyebrows.
Almost. The Spirit was 7-4 en route to a 12-4 overall regular-season record after Stankovic replaced Dave MacWilliams in late January. It was a nasty stretch in the schedule, ending with seven straight away games.
That the Spirit took four of those final seven suggests that, under Stankovic, the team learned how to win on the road.
"Our teamwork was excellent and our defense was great," Stankovic said. "We didn't allow the other team to break us. Those guys were veterans and it was easier to get the point across. Now, with these young guys, well, we have to grow up as a team."
Stankovic will get the first sign of how this year's players react on the road this weekend. Last season's team didn't play well on the road until Stankovic took over, losing six of its first nine.
Indoor veteran Branko Segota, 35, says the degree of difficulty of playing on the road depends on the site and the size of the crowd.
"It's easier for me to play on the road, because there's less pressure and we're not expected by that crowd to win," Segota said. "So you go in with an easier attitude and just play your game. At home, the pressure of the crowd is on you -- you have to win."
If the away crowd is large and raucous, however, that makes it more difficult for visitors. Segota recalls playing for the New York Arrows before 17,000 in the Kiel Center in St. Louis in the Major Indoor Soccer League championship game in 1981.
"I thought we were the much better team, but we didn't win until the final 30 seconds, 6-5," Segota said. "The crowd was right on top of us and that ignited St. Louis."
St. Louis seldom draws such of a crowd now, and only 7,486 turned out for last week's opener. A crowd of that size is what Spirit goalie Joe Mallia is used to at the Kiel Center.
"The fans are right behind the goal, but that's OK," Mallia said. "I joke around with them. That makes their heckling easier to take."
Opponent: St. Louis Ambush
Where: Kiel Center, St. Louis
Time: 8: 35
Radio: WWLG (1360 AM): updates after each quarter
Outlook: St. Louis thrashed the expansion Toronto Shooting Stars, 25-11, in the league opener, racing to a 17-0 lead. The Spirit beat the Tampa Bay Terror in its opener, 12-10, as seven players scored. Joe Mallia will start for G Cris Vaccaro (broken big toe). Defender Lance Johnson, recuperating from knee surgery, will miss his second straight game.
Pub Date: 10/25/96