The Cleveland Crunch's Matt Knowles, who is perhaps the best defender in the National Professional Soccer League, will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Knowles, last season's NPSL Defender of the Year, suffered the injury last week and missed his team's last two games.
Cleveland was 9-5 before acquiring him for three players in a December trade with the Milwaukee Wave and 12-3 since.
It is a major blow to the defending NPSL champion.
Still plenty of suspense
Less than 30 percent of the regular season remains, yet three of the four division races are still heated.
Only the Crunch, 21-8 and with a six-game lead over the Cincinnati Silverbacks in the Central Division, isn't being crowded. Cleveland was the first team to clinch a playoff berth and, if it is able to maintain its lead, will be one of the four division champions to earn a first-round playoff bye.
The St. Louis Ambush has the best record (21-5) in the league, but has a slim two-game edge over the Kansas City Attack (20-8) in the Midwest Division. The Milwaukee Wave (18-10) has won 13 of its last 15 games to contend.
In the North, Buffalo (16-13) has a one-game lead over the Detroit Rockers, and the Spirit (16-14) now has a two-game lead over the Harrisburg Heat in the East.
With its win over St. Louis Sunday, the Spirit became the second team, after Cleveland, to clinch a playoff berth.
Twelve of the league's 15 teams qualify for the playoffs.
Spirit fans finally are getting an idea why the club was so eager to sign Branko Segota during the offseason.
Segota, 35, one of six indoor players in history with more than 500 goals, missed 21 games with injuries, but has scored at least one point in each of his nine games. He has 22 points, 10 during the three-game winning streak.
Pub Date: 2/19/97