By John Philip Wyllie
For Lisa Nanez, last year will be hard to top. Nanez, a defender on Mexico’s ’99 Women’s World Cup soccer team, was a wide-eyed rookie last season for the Bay Area CyberRays. It was a season that afforded her the opportunity to play for the first time alongside world-renown players such as Brandi Chastain and Sissi and enjoy what was the league’s inaugural season.
Last season, Nanez was a frequent starter contributing to the CyberRays amazing worst-to-first championship season. Things have not gone quite as well for Nanez or her team this year, but with the season coming down the home stretch she remains optimistic.
“We are tied now for third place and hopefully, we are on the way back up,” Nanez said in an interview prior to last Sunday’s game against the San Diego Spirit at USD’s Torero Stadium. “As a team we have been improving each and every day and I think you can see that in our games. Overall, we are having a good year. We just need to finish a little better and take advantage of our opportunities.”
With the CyberRays adding highly touted rookie Danielle Borgman to their already rock solid defense this season, Nanez has seen her role change from that of a frequent starter, to one of a reserve coming off the bench.
She did that again in the latter stages of Sunday’s game while the result was very much in doubt. Nanez acquitted herself well as the CyberRays came from behind to tie the Spirit and gain a valuable point in their quest for a playoff spot. Her coach, Ian Sawyers is pleased with her development.
“Lisa has made a lot of progress,” Sawyers said. “She is not as quick as a lot of these athletes and doesn’t cover as much ground, but she is starting to gain a level of confidence playing for us in the center position. She has really picked up a lot tactically from playing with Sissi, Brandi, and Thori (Bryan). She hasn’t played a lot this season, but we got her a chance to play recently in a couple of exhibition games, so she has had some match practice and exposure. It was a nice opportunity for her to show us what she has got.”
Though her opportunities have been fewer, Nanez is not one to complain. “All 20 players on this team are awesome, so if I can help out, whether I am starting or coming off of the bench, I am just excited to be out here.” In the meantime, Nanez has found other ways to contribute.
“I only speak a little Spanish, so it’s hard for me to get out there, but I’ve done a couple of public appearances and we are definitely involved within the Mexican community in San Jose. Since she speaks a lot of Spanish, Linnea (Quinones, who hails from Chula Vista), does a lot of public appearance work. She has even done a few radio shows,” Nanez said.
Following the season, Nanez will be joining CyberRays teammates Gina Oceguera-Eagleson and Quinones on the Mexican national team as it prepares for Women’s World Cup qualifying. While none of them have seen a lot of regulation playing time, they have all benefited from the experience of playing professionally. That will come in handy when they try to fend off a whole new group of players vying for their national team positions.
“Leo (Cuellar, who coaches Mexico’s national team) has brought in a lot of younger players and is doing a lot of recruiting by trying to get players from here (with dual Mexican citizenship like Nanez) to go down and play for the national team.” With her constant improvement due to her participation in the WUSA, Nanez will be tough to dislodge.