By John Philip Wyllie
Having vanquished a pair of collegiate teams (U. of
Washington and Texas A&M) by a combined score of 8-1, the
San Diego Spirit will next take on the defending WUSA
champion San Jose CyberRays at Cal-State Fullerton at 5:00 p.m.
on Sunday evening. That effort will be bolstered by the return of
a trio of U.S. national team stars who arrived back home
last weekend after playing in Portugal's annual Algarve Cup.
While America's fifth place finish in that tournament was both surprising and disappointing, the Spirit's Shannon MacMillan was on fire in Portugal scoring seven of the eight U.S. goals. From the sidelines of Sunday's scrimmage versus Texas A&M MacMillan quipped that her performance in Portugal was due to something in the water. Spirit head coach Carlos Juarez, on hand for MacMillan's incredible feat, will no doubt be filling his sideline water jugs this season with whatever MacMillan was drinking.
Following Sunday's scrimmage, assistant coach Martin Vasquez, who has been the acting head coach in Juarez's absence, expressed optimism about the coming season and satisfaction over the Spirit's La Jolla preseason camp thus far. Vasquez also enjoyed his stint as the team's temporary head coach.
"I loved it and it was a great experience for me," said the former Mexican and U.S. national team defender. "I think it was important for me to be in charge so the players could better see my point of view and how I view soccer. I'm glad Carlos has that confidence in me."
"We are now twelve days into our preseason and everything is going well so far," Vasquez said. With no major injuries to report and a team approaching match fitness, progress is being made toward the goal of getting the Spirit off to a strong start.
A year ago, the Spirit were listless through much of the season's first half, but came roaring back in the closing weeks and nearly qualified for the postseason playoffs. Unlike a few other postseason non-participants that completely remodeled their 2001 rosters, the Spirit return with a lot of familiar faces. Goaltender, Jaime Pagliarulo believes that gives the Spirit a definite advantage.
"I think we are fortunate to be coming in with experience. Some of the other teams have cleaned house and are pretty much starting from square one," Pagliarulo said.
Sunday's opponent does not fit into that category. The CyberRays boast what is perhaps the WUSA's best defense, one anchored by Goaltender of the Year, LaKeysia Beene. They also have a trio of Mexican-American players on their roster in Lisa Nanez and Chula Vista's Linnea Quinones from the Mexican national team and former Spirit midfielder, Erin Montoya. One player fans will not be see on the field Sunday is the team's most famous player, defender Brandi Chastain. Chastain is currently recovering from knee surgery.
After viewing his team's 4-1 dominating performance over Texas A&M, Juarez said, "so far, so good. We can't start celebrating yet we haven't played a professional team. When we do, we will really find out what we are made out of." The first of two such opportunities will come Sunday in Fullerton, (tickets (949) 582-5915) the two teams will square off a second time in Las Vegas on March 23.