PHILADELPHIA - There wasn't a player in either locker room who needed the reminder, but the coaches issued it anyway.
OK, the Spirit's Mike Stankovic and the Philadelphia Kixx's Dave MacWilliams told their teams, it's only December, still early in the National Professional Soccer League season. But this game, well, it's a big one.
MacWilliams' words apparently fell on deaf ears, but Stankovic's didn't.
"This is a big game," Stankovic said. "Philadelphia is physical and intense. It's character time for our guys."
With a chance to move into a tie with the Kixx for first place in the East Division, the Spirit took full advantage.
Before a CoreStates Spectrum crowd of 6,116, the Kixx's smallest of the season, the Spirit romped, 20-11, pulling abreast of Philadelphia with an 8-6 record. The teams win meet again Friday at the Baltimore Arena.
"That was a big-time win," said defender Doug Neely. "Call it an early Christmas present. Now we go home with a chance to go into first place alone."
Said assistant coach-goalie Cris Vaccaro who had 15 saves: "This was a big two-game swing. It was either leave here even or two games back. Friday's game will be even bigger. We've really been gelling the last five games."
Philadelphia clearly is on the decline. Since bolting to a 7-1 start, the expansion Kixx has dropped five of its last six. The Spirit has won four of its last five.
"We've been getting ourselves behind the 8-ball early," MacWilliams said. "We were down 7-0 against Tampa Bay and 11-2 against Cincinnati. We can't spot teams like that; we're not that good."
Sure enough, the Kixx did it again, surrendering 11 straight points in the first half to drop behind 11-3.
Bo Vuckovic led the Spirit, falling only an assist shy of the cycle, with three-, two- and one-point goals. Seven different players scored. Jimmy Glenn had two goals and Jamie Christie and Nesko Milovanovic each had a goal and two assists.
NOTES: Shane Dougherty (Fallston High, University of Maryland), the No. 1 choice in Thursday's NPSL draft, will practice with the Spirit tomorrow and is expected to sign soon and remain with the team the rest of the season.... Philadelphia's leading scorer, Peter Vermes, who had at least one point in every game except the opener, sat out with a sprained ankle. No. 6 scorer Larry Julius missed his third straight game since being suspended by MacWilliams for disciplinary reasons.... Player-coach Stankovic named Jason Dieter game captain for the second time, in part because Dieter became a father for the first time when wife Karen delivered Ryan Gregory on Friday. Dad is having the best season of his five-year NPSL career.... Stankovic, Branko Segota and Lance Johnson sat out with knee injuries, Mike Henning with a sprained ankle. Ronnie Simmons and Bobby Joe Esposito played despite the flu. Joe Mallia had it, too, but it was his turn to watch Cris Vaccaro in goal. Vaccaro, a Camden, N.J., native, had a rooting section of youngsters from his summer camps.... The Spirit's lone injury last night was Simmons' moderate ankle sprain; he's questionable for Friday's game against the Kixx.... Rookie Milovanovic entered the game as the NPSL leader in fouls (58), on pace to commit 178. The club record is shared by Johnson and Brad Smith, both with 115 in 1994-95.... The Kixx went into the game with a 7,473 attendance average, fourth in the league.... The Kixx has five members with Spirit backgrounds -- MacWilliams and players Omid Namazi, Clark Brisson, Chary Ross and Joey Murtagh.
Pub Date: 12/22/96