By John Philip Wyllie
With the second season of WUSA women’s professional soccer about to kickoff at USD’s Torero Stadium on Saturday, April 13, Carlos Juarez, the coach of the San Diego Spirit, is cautiously optimistic.
“Our starting positions are set and I’m pretty happy with where we are at this point,” he said following the team’s final scrimmage of the preseason, a 1-1 draw against Pepperdine University at Hickman Field. The scrimmage marked the first appearance under game conditions of highly-touted Chinese national team forward Zhang Ouying. Despite the fact that Zhang played a total of only 30 minutes for the Spirit this preseason, Juarez believes the speedy attack-minded Zhang will be ready to start this weekend.
“We’ve seen her play and we know what she can do, so it is just a matter of her understanding what we do as a team and the players getting to know her,” Juarez said. Her speed and skills were apparent during her brief second half appearance in a game which saw the Spirit outshoot their opponents by a margin of 19-1, but settle for a 1-1 draw.
Looking back on the month long preseason camp, Juarez commented that the two biggest intra-squad battles waged positionally, were those on the back line and at forward. Up front, returning Nigerian international Mercy Akide found herself locked in a struggle with surprising newcomer Shauna Rohbock for a position alongside leading scorer Shannon MacMillan and the aforementioned Zhang.
An undrafted walk-on, Rohbock, who last played collegiately three years ago at BYU, arrived in camp directly off of her stint as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team. She raised eyebrows throughout scoring five goals in the team’s eight scrimmages.
While Zhang’s Chinese national team teammate Fan Yunjie and American counterpart Joy Fawcett are locks on the back line, the other two positions have been hotly contested. It appears that the left back job will go to Margaret Tietjen.
Juarez called Tietjen the most improved player in camp and likes her speed and ability to attack out of the back. “She came here (a year ago) as a forward and midfielder, but we converted her into a left back. She looks good and I think she feels comfortable now back there.”
U.S. national team captain, Julie Foudy will again direct the Spirit attack from the midfield. Her national team coach April Heinrichs, calls Foudy so unique that, “there has never been another player like her,” and adds, “we may never see another player like her again.”
The problems a year ago were mainly on offense for the 7-7-7 fifth place Spirit. Juarez made that offense his major focal point throughout the preseason. He expects that with the arrival of Zhang, the goals he has been looking for won’t be far behind.
“As the preseason went on new things developed that we had to take care of, but overall, I think we are in good shape,” Juarez said. The Carolina Courage will be the first of 10 opponents to visit Torero Stadium when they play on Saturday.