CLEVELAND -- In its first contest since being eliminated from the National Professional Soccer League playoffs, the Spirit closed its road schedule with a 17-4 loss to the Cleveland Crunch before 8,652 at Cleveland State University Convocation Center.
The Spirit, which got only two second-half goals from Sasha Zoric, fell to 11-27 with the loss. Baltimore's playoff hopes had been extinguished on Tuesday when Cincinnati wrapped up the fifth and final American Division spot.
The Crunch used a point-a-minute offense in the second quarter, behind two goals apiece from Hector Marinaro and Zoran Karic to take command of the game at 15-0 entering halftime. Cleveland, up 4-0 after one quarter, scored 11 points in a span of 10: 12 to take the big lead.
The Spirit, looking for its first back-to-back road wins this season after a 13-4 victory at Montreal, had to settle for a 2-18 road record with the loss.
"We missed Bo Vuckovic, who was out with an ankle injury," Spirit coach Mike Stankovic said. "But that's not why we lost. We played well in Montreal, but this was not our best."
The season ends this week for the Spirit, who play host to Philadelphia on Friday and Kansas City on Saturday.
"We'll have a good crowd," Stankovic said. "We'll play with dignity and respect for the game. If you are in or out of the playoffs, you finish the best you can."
Stankovic, a veteran of 18 seasons of soccer in Baltimore, knows the playoffs well.
"You have to win on the road. If not you will never be a championship team," Stankovic said.
Cleveland's fate is much different. The Crunch, currently sitting in the fourth spot of the American Division playoffs, improved to 19-19. Cleveland, which has not been over .500, reached the break-even mark for the seventh time this season with the victory.
Stankovic, however, sees better times ahead for the Spirit.
"We have some young guys who have dealt with adversity all year," he said. "We lost 14 games by three points or less and lost six in overtime. I think they will learn from this and with some help move to the next level."
Pub Date: 3/23/98