So much for the American Conference's near invincibility in the National Professional Soccer League All-Star Game.
"It was time to put a stop to it," said Goran Hunjak of the National Conference's Kansas City Attack.
The National stopped it decisively, dealing the American, which had won two straight and five of the last six, a 20-14 defeat yesterday at the Baltimore Arena. The crowd of 8,317 was the third largest in the 10-year history of the All-Star Game.
Employing a smothering defense orchestrated by Daryl Doran and anchored by Milwaukee Wave goalie Victor Nogueira, the National held the American to its lowest point total in the rivalry.
Nogueira was brilliant in the first half before yielding to Kansas City's Warren Westcoat, making one acrobatic save after another and finishing with 14 saves.
"I played well," Nogueira said, casting humility aside. "I was on."
It was the balding, 33-year-old Doran, however, who was voted MVP. The St. Louis Ambush's player-coach did it all, playing strong defense and directing it, and scoring two goals, the second of which gave the National an early 10-2 lead.
He made light of the burden of playing as well as serving as coach. He does it all the time during the season, he pointed out. Anyway, he had Detroit Rockers coach Pato Margetic on the bench as his assistant.
Doran amassed 53 points in the MVP voting, Nogueira 51 and St. Louis midfielder Steve Kuntz, who had two goals and an assist, 32.
"We stressed helping out on defense," Doran said. "When one of their big scorers had us one-on-one, we needed a midfielder or forward to pinch back.
"The key was bringing that second guy back to double-team as soon as possible. Hunjak [a forward] was the key to that, especially in the second half."
The National assumed its 10-2 lead midway through the second quarter. At that point, little had been heard from the American's offense, led by the Cleveland Crunch's one-two punch, Hector Marinaro and Zoran Karic.
"They have so much offensive power," said Hunjak, a former member of the Spirit who had a goal and two assists. "They have the potential to explode and kill.
"If we hadn't brought people back to help on defense, it wouldn't have been fair to our goalie. That was the only way we were going to stay in the game. Pride was part of it. You have pride when you play against the great players."
The National built its advantage to 12-4 by halftime and to 14-4 early in the third quarter. Only then did the American rouse itself.
"They outhustled us," said Marinaro, who has won three NPSL scoring titles and last month became indoor soccer's all-time leader in goals when he booted in No. 741.
Marinaro finished with two goals and an assist for five points and Karic had one goal and an assist. It was subpar production for both stars, particularly Karic. In three previous All-Star games, he had 23 points.
The entire American effort was too little too late. Ten of the game's final 16 points weren't nearly enough."
"If you don't play defense, you don't have much chance of winning," said Spirit and American coach Mike Stankovic. "We could have worked harder."
"They really worked hard," said Spirit defender Doug Neely, leaving his opinion of the American's lack of effort unsaid.
The game was never really close, which virtually stripped it of excitement. The American trailed by six points entering the fourth quarter, and couldn't have made that up unless someone got hot. No one did.
NOTES: The game featured the NPSL's top 11 scorers, headed by Detroit's Dennis Brose, Karic and Marinaro. Six players in yesterday's game appeared in the Major Indoor Soccer League's final All-Star Game in 1992, staged here by the Blast -- Neely, Marinaro, Karic, Kim Roentved, Nogueira and Wes Wade.
Pub Date: 2/10/97