DUBROVNIK, Croatia -- Maybe if Sgt. David Spirk's fiancée would have been there, the USS Saipan Navy/Marine Corps soccer team might have been spared the thrashing of an 11-0 shutout.
Though judging by their obvious inexperience and practically invisible midfield, not even Spirk's claimed source of inspiration, Nicole, could have eased the beating dealt by Dubrovnik's 3rd Division semi-pro team.
"Croatia's got some of the best soccer teams in Europe," said Spirk, the team's sweeper, just before the game. "I'd feel better about our chances if they'd start their fifth string."
That fact was driven home when Dubrovnik's froward launched a ball more than 30 yards, over the keeper's head and into the net. It was the first of three goals he would cram down the keeper's throat in the first half.
Dubrovnik's other shining star introduced himself via a bicycle kick save from the half line, which he lobbed to the forward for a goal. The right middle fielder would score his team's other three goals before the 45-minute whistle.
The Saipan team welcomed the break as a chance to regroup. However, only seconds into the latter half Dubrovnik piloted one past the defense and keeper for their seventh goal of the game.
Interrupted by some descent goal tending from Saipan, a shot that bounced off the Dubrovnik goal post and all-around solid play by Spirk and team coach Seaman Apprentice Kevin Black, the Croatians steamed forward with four more goals, marking the game's final score of 11-0.
The Saipan players fought hard, and considering it was only their second game - and they were playing handpicked pros, the team faired well.
"We're a new group," said Black. "We need to work on our teamwork, but we're evolving into a pretty good organization."
Spirk, a 1999 All-Marine soccer player, added the rigors of ship life take a toll on the game.
"These guys have a chance to practice every day," he said. "On ship, you can run three miles in eighteen minutes on a treadmill, but you're not in soccer shape. You need a lot more work to get there."
Even though they lost, Saipan team members said it was worth the opportunity to play a team from another country.
Black and Spirk are even optimistic about the team's next international bout against an Italian soccer club.
Still, maybe Nicole should buy a plane ticket.