by John Philip Wyllie
When the Bay Area Cyber-Rays and the Atlanta Beat square off on Saturday (11:00 a.m. PDT on TNT) in the first ever WUSA Founders Cup Championship game, Mexican national team defender Gina Oceguera will likely start on the back line for the Cyber-Rays. Oceguera's presence on the field for the season's ultimate game seemed a highly unlikely possibility little more than a month ago, but a lot has changed since then.
Oceguera, who starred for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo during her college career, got her professional start this season with the San Diego Spirit after playing for Mexico during the '99 Women's World Cup. An outstanding forward in college, Oceguera was converted into a defender by Leonardo Cuellar in order to anchor Mexico's back line.
Oceguera's conversion from an attacker to a defender was continued by San Diego Spirit coach, Carlos Juarez, last spring. But with a team rich in highly skilled defenders, there was little opportunity for Oceguera to play in San Diego. During her tenure there, she spent most of her time languishing on the bench. When it became time to add American superstar defender Joy Fawcett to the Spirit roster following the birth of her third child, Oceguera became expendable and was released.
"I hated to see her go because she had a lot of talent and ability," Juarez said at the time. "It just came down to positions and she was the one I had to let go. I think she has a future somewhere in this league," he added. Shortly thereafter, his words turned out to be prophetic.
Looking for defensive help and additional speed, Bay Area head coach, Ian Sawyers sign-ed the 23 year old Oceguera to play for the CyberRays. Oceguera, who hails from Sunnyvale, California was thrilled not only to be back on a team, but to be playing once again near her home and family.
When CyberRays defender, Dianne Alagich, was lost for the season with a serious knee injury, Oceguera went from a reserve role to that of a starter. Her contributions on defense have helped the CyberRays complete an amazing turnaround this season in which they went from league doormats earlier in the year, to legitimate title contenders.
The rollercoaster ride that has characterized Oceguera's first season of professional soccer will come to end on Saturday in Foxboro stadium when she takes the field for the CyberRays in front of a national television audience. While Atlanta ended the regular season in the number one slot riding the coattails of high scoring Charmaine Hooper, Oceguera and her defensive teammates are hoping shut down Atlanta's highly touted attack with their often impenetrable defense. Win or lose, considering how her season started, Oceguera has to be thrilled just to be a part of it.