By John Philip Wyllie
With the first game of their inaugural
season little more than a month away, the San Diego Spirit, like
the other seven franchises in the new women's professional soccer
league, are hard at work attempting to build a winner. Head coach,
Carlos Juarez is excited about the Spirit's prospects, but realizes
it will take time for the assembled talents to mesh together into
a cohesive unit. Following their final tuneup at UCSD in preparation
for their Mar. 11 exhibition game in El Paso, Texas, Juarez spoke
about the progress thus far.
Left to right: Shannon MacMillan, Joy Fawcett, and Julie Foudy
"The quality is very good," said Juarez. "The players are well prepared for the most part. What I was looking for when we drafted were players that were technical and had a decent understanding of the game and I'd say, so far so good. We just need to iron out a few things so we can play as a team."
The most recognizable players in camp were U.S. national team stars, Julie Foudy and Shannon MacMillan, who as members of the history making '99 Women's World Cup team have graced the covers of Sports Illustrated, Time, News-week, People, and every major newspaper in the United States. They were joined by handful of high-profile inter-nationals including Sweden's Kristin Bengtsson and Ulrika Karlsson, Nigeria's, "Marvelous" Mercy Akide, stalwart Chinese defender, Fan Yunjie and Mexico's Gina Oceguera.
Oceguera, who played sweeper for Mexico's '99 Women's World Cup team, is being utilized as a left back by Juarez. "Gina is fitting in nicely," said Juarez. "She's playing a different position, so it is just a matter of her understanding her (new) role. She has the technique and physical ability, so once she understands her position (completely) she'll be great at it."
While the two-a-day training sessions often played in less than ideal weather on rain-soaked fields have been demanding on the players, there have been some lighter moments. Fan, who speaks very little English, has been a constant source of amusement especially to Foudy who has a long history on the U.S. team as fun-loving jokester.
"(Fan) has been awesome," says Foudy of the women she battled in the epic '99 Wo-men's World Cup final. "She speaks almost no English, but can be hilarious and quite entertaining. Every day she comes into camp with a new word." At the conclusion of practice last Friday, Fan showed how quickly she is picking up the language by stringing together several words to tell one of her coaches, "have a nice weekend." Teammates standing nearby applauded her.
The San Diego Spirit open their season at 7 p.m. on April 22 at USD's Torrero Stadium. For tickets and information call (877) 476- 2237.