By John Philip Wyllie
Having reached the half-way mark
in their inaugural season, the San Diego Spirit will have to redouble
their efforts if they expect to continue their season beyond the
August 12 regular season finale. With a record of 2-5-2 and only
one point out of last place (as of 6-20-01), the Spirit need to
improve their scoring efficiency, become more physical and stop
allowing game-killing goals. It's a tall order for Spirit head
coach Carlos Juarez.
One of the people he will be depending on to engineer a mid-season turnaround is his Mexican-born assistant coach, Martin Vasquez. Vasquez is unique in that during his lengthy 18 year playing career he became one of only a handful of players to ever represent two different countries. His early career in Mexico starring for four first division clubs earned him a spot on the Mexican national team at a time when Mexico was the dominate CONCACAF power.
After acquiring his U.S. citizenship several years later, Vasquez appeared seven times for the U.S. national team. Juarez was delighted to bring Vasquez on board with the Spirit in February anticipating at the time that he would be able to draw upon his wealth of knowledge and experience to make the club stronger.
"Martin plays a very important role within our team," says Juarez. "He is very demanding, he commands respect and the players respond to him. On top of that, he's an excellent coach and he is very good at both talking to individuals and groups of players."
"I played for 18 years, so I know what the pressure and intensity of being a player is like," says Vasquez. As the losses have mounted this season, the players have become more and more frustrated and the pressure more intense. Vasquez obviously can't play the games for them. All he can do is offer his advice, identify the team's problem areas and work on finding solutions.
"Martin deals with everything," according to the Spirit's rising star, Erin Montoya. "He has given me confidence when I have gone out on the field and helped me with my positioning. He also helps me to stay focused and to keep my head in the game."
Spirit leading scorer, Shannon MacMillan echoes Mon-toya's sentiment about his value to the team. "Martin brings a lot of enthusiasm and passion for the game whether he is coaching or jumping in to play with us. His enthusiasm is amazing. He's excited to come to work every single day and it shows."
With the team perilously close to dropping out of the playoff race, Vasquez's enthusiasm is needed now more than ever. He is not about to lose hope.
"I've been in situations like this before," he says. "So far we have been unlucky, but we have got to be patient. We just have to toughen up. If we do, I'm sure we will have better moments than the ones we are going through right now."
The Spirit begin a three-game Torero Stadium home-stand on Sunday June 24 when they battle the Bay Area CyberRays. Next, on June 30, they play host to the league-leading N.Y. Power. They close it out with a rematch against the Boston Breakers on July 8. For tickets and information, call 1(877) 4-SOCCER.