PLYMOUTH, Mich. - Before leaving for Detroit and the Major Indoor Soccer League championship game, the Kixx received an inspirational speech from an unlikely source.
St. Joseph's men's basketball coach Phil Martelli attended practice Thursday and talked to the team afterward. Martelli is a friend of Kixx assistant coach Sam Lee, who had been an assistant soccer coach at St. Joseph's for 19 years before joining the professional team in 1999.
The advice from Martelli proved to be inspirational as well as prophetic.
"He told us to go out and silence the crowd and to play together," Kixx defender Pat Morris said in a locker room that was anything but silent after Saturday's 13-8 title win over the Detroit Ignition at the Compuware Sports Arena. "It was a great talk that he gave us."
It was even a better effort by the Kixx in winning their second MISL title in their 11-year history.
The momentum in the championship game swung back and forth. Detroit dominated the early going but couldn't score. The Kixx built a 10-2 lead early in the third period, but the Ignition came back with three consecutive two-point goals to trail by just 10-8 entering the fourth period.
"I think we were panicking in the third quarter," said goalie Peter Pappas. "Give Detroit credit because they were pressuring us, and they were feeding off their crowd."
The Kixx looked tired, and the Ignition was given a boost by the noise of the sellout crowd, which was shaking the 3,504-seat arena.
"It was very loud, and you could feel the energy when they came within a goal," said Kixx player-coach Don D'Ambra, who scored a two-point and a three-point goal. "That is what made this sweeter to win it on the road."
It was D'Ambra who silenced the crowd, giving the Kixx a needed cushion with a three-point goal early in the fourth period. That seemed to sap the life out of Detroit and its rabid fans.
"When they made it 10-8, the place was rocking," said Morris, who along with D'Ambra, Pappas and midfielder Edgar Bartolomeu, played in the Kixx' 2002 championship clincher, an 8-6 win before 16,802 fans in Milwaukee.
"It was a great atmosphere [in Detroit], but it was just as good to hear them silenced after Don's goal," Morris continued.
Morris also paid tribute to the Kixx' fans. A bus of 50 fans, which included families of the players and other team supporters, left Philadelphia at 10 p.m. Friday, arriving at the hotel in Detroit at about 8:15 Saturday morning.
"Our fans came out to support us, and we could hear them making noise when we got up by eight points," Morris said.
That noise was easily drowned out when Detroit made its comeback.
The Kixx had more than the fans to battle. Despite being an expansion team, Detroit had the best record in the balanced six-team league.
The Ignition were 18-12 in the regular season; the Kixx and the Chicago Storm were both 17-13. Four of the six teams qualified for the playoffs, and five had a .500 or better record. To show the balance, the Kixx were 3-3 against the other three playoff qualifiers - Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee - in the regular season.
After losing the opening playoff game at Chicago, the Kixx had to beat the Storm twice in one evening to advance to the finals. The Kixx won, 10-6, in their regulation game and by 2-0 in the sudden-death, golden goal contest immediately afterward.
"Just making the playoffs was a battle," D'Ambra said. "It's been a stressful year, very intense, and we had good guys with good character."
Most of all, the players will never forget how they quieted the crowd, and then enjoyed celebrating as champions in the visitors' locker room.
"We'll always remember this," said Morris, who was doused with champagne. "Accomplishing this with these guys is the best feeling in the world."