Simmons takes Spirit by surprise

Doug Brown
Date Published: 
Baltimore Sun

Free agent from Trinidad adjusts to indoor game

Less than a week before the season started, almost as an afterthought, the Spirit signed a 31-year-old free agent from Trinidad whose exposure to indoor soccer had been brief.

Ronnie Simmons had played in a couple of tournaments when he was at Howard University a decade before, and he spent a summer playing indoors with the Washington Warthogs of the Continental Indoor Soccer League.

There had been little reason for coach Dave MacWilliams to expect much from Simmons. A defender with limited experience, he had arrived in camp late, urged to try out by Spirit defender Omid Namazi.

"Going from outdoors to indoors is like comparing apples to oranges," MacWilliams said. "It's a different game. You don't know who's going to adapt. But Ronnie came in and did a super job. He's been a pleasant surprise."

At 6 feet, 190 pounds, Simmons has provided muscle in the Spirit's backcourt, "a lot of toughness and composure on the ball that we needed back there," Namazi said.

Namazi suspected all along that Simmons could contribute to an indoor team.

They had played together for the outdoor Washington Diplomats in 1988 and '89, and Namazi had been badgering Simmons to audition for MacWilliams.

"This past summer, Omid reminded me after every game with the Warthogs to think about coming out," Simmons said, smiling. "After Spirit camp opened, I spent a week at Omid's place in Cockeysville and practiced with the guys."

Although Simmons' game is defense, he caught MacWilliams' eye with three three-point goals in an exhibition against Harrisburg.

In 16 regular-season games, he has five goals and four assists, and with 16 blocks is second on the team to fellow defender Mike Stankovic (21).

After a good career at Howard, Simmons played pro and semipro soccer for a few years, then returned to Trinidad and "took a three-year sabbatical from the game."

In 1994, he was back here, realizing, he says, how badly he missed the game.

Spirit tonight

Opponent: Harrisburg Heat

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7:35

Radio: WASA (1330 AM)

Outlook: As reinforcements to compensate for a rash of injuries, the Spirit signed midfielder Gary Ross, 26, who played briefly for Harrisburg in 1993-94 and the outdoor Delaware Wizards of the U.S. Interregional Soccer League last summer, and forward Matt Ruopp, 26. Both will be in uniform tonight. Ross has a 15-day contract; Ruopp has a developmental contract and will be available the rest of the season. Out for the Spirit are Dave Vaudreuil (stomach muscle) and Jamie Christie (hamstring); Barry Stitz (ankle) is doubtful; Bobby Joe Esposito (hip) is questionable and Jason Dieter (ankle) is probable. Vaudreuil was placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Dec. 31. Cris Vaccaro, recovered from injuries and the flu, will start in goal. The Spirit and the Heat have split four previous meetings this season.