By John Philip Wyllie
Saturday's San Diego Spirit soccer game was more than just another date on the 21 game schedule for Mexican national team defenders, Gina Oceguera and Lisa Nanez. For the Spirits' Oceguera and the CyberRays' Nanez, the game, which ended in a 1-0 CyberRay victory, provided a perfect opportunity for these two old friends to get together.
Nanez and Oceguera grew up a short
distance from each other outside of San Francisco and rose through
the ranks of the local soccer leagues, playing sometimes together
and at other times on opposite sides of the ball. While there
are a few other players of Mexican heritage within the league,
Nanez and Oceguera along with Washington's Monica Gerardo, are
the league's only three from Mexico's '99 Women's World Cup team.
Of the three, Nanez has had the most impact.
"I may have earned my way into a starting spot, but every day is different and you have to bust your butt in practice because you never know."
The addition of rugged Australian defender, Dianne Alagich this week to the CyberRays roster will no doubt heighten the competition for playing time along the team's defensive line, but Nanez is determined to do what it takes to stay on the field.
She helped her cause Saturday night by thwarting the Spirit attack for ninety minutes. For the final 14 minutes of the game when Oceguera came on as a substitute, she had the added bonus of once again going head to head with her childhood friend.
Like the Spirit, the CyberRays have gotten off to a slow start. Prior to Saturday's much needed victory, they had salvaged just a single win and one draw in their six preceding games. For Nanez, a University of Santa Clara product, losing is a new experience and one she would just as well do without.
"It's still early in the season,
so a lot can happen," she said hopefully. "We are still
very optimistic that we will be able to pick it up and turn things
around." Despite the fact that the team has done poorly in
the early going, the experience of becoming a professional athlete
has more than lived up to her expectations.
"The training sessions are hard and the games are very intense, but it is awesome just to be out there with my team," Nanez explains. "I've never been in an environment where my team got so much attention."
Much of that recent media interest is no doubt due to the fact that one of her teammates is the free-spirited Brandi Chastain, the player most people remember for her shirt-doffing celebration following America's victory in the last Women's World Cup.
Chastain served as one of Nanez's coaches at Santa Clara, so naturally they know each other well. Playing alongside her one-time mentor is one of the many reasons Nanez is enjoying her first professional season in San Jose.
Another has to do with her young fans.
"I made a visit to a local bilingual school a few weeks ago and put on a clinic along with one of my teammates," Nanez said. "I'd love to do more and get involved in the local Latino community, but I don't speak fluent Spanish, so that makes it harder." A third generation Mexican-American, Nanez grew up speaking English in her home.
"I'm working on my Spanish, so hopefully one day I'll be able to do more of that."
Erin Montoya, San Diego's other Mexican-American player, looked sharp in her best game to date. She consistently floated crosses into the CyberRays penalty box from her flank midfield position and had San Diego's only shot on goal in the first half.
Her play Saturday night might be enough to gain her another start tomorrow when the Spirit host the Boston Breakers at Torero Stadium in a 4:00 p.m. match.