By John Philip Wyllie
Despite the 4-1 drubbing the San Diego Spirit received on March 23 in their second preseason clash with the WUSA champion San Jose CyberRays, coach Carlos Juarez is not overly concerned. With a little fine tuning, Juarez believes, this year’s San Diego Spirit will be better than the 2001 edition that finished 7-7-7 last season in USD’s Torero Stadium.
“Anytime you give up four goals, you have to be concerned,” Juarez said regarding the exhibition versus San Jose held in Las Vegas last weekend. “At the same time, I also have to be realistic. This is the preseason and I had some people playing way out of position and several others in different positions. (The 4-1 loss) was a something of a wake up call,” Juarez admitted. “We are still vulnerable and we have to play better defensively.”
With Chinese national team star Fan Yunjie now at last back and working herself into match fitness, the Spirit defense should see a marked improvement. Fan was selected the team’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2001 and named to the second team All-WUSA squad. Having played many times against her, American national team scoring ace, Shannon MacMillan has gained insight into Fan’s extraordinary ability.
“Fan is not a flashy player, but she is so smart,” said MacMillan, her long-time adversary. “Her natural instinct is to be smart and step in front. She’s got a tremendous soccer mind. I like the way she reads the game and follows it up by being such a solid player.” One of Fan’s teammates on the Chinese national team, Zhang Ouying joined the team this week. Fast and skillful, Ouying is expected to team with MacMillan on the Spirit’s attack line. Ouying is being counted on to help turn a sporadic often one-dimensional attack into one of the league’s most exciting.
Juarez believes the Spirit’s biggest improvement, will be on offense. “We are going to attack better. We have a few more weapons on offense especially with Ouying and some of the younger players that are battling for positions like Shauna Rohbuck and Lori Lindsay.”
Juarez’s biggest concerns are with injuries and the loss of his three national team stars (MacMillan, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett) over the course of the season to national team duty. While there is of course, nothing Juarez can do to prevent his players from sustaining injuries, he wants to make sure the players that will be filling in when his national team players depart are ready to play and able fulfill their obligations.
“Our understanding of each other is not where I want it to be at this point,” Juarez said. “We need a common understanding of how we are going to attack and how we are going to defend. Overall it’s good it’s just fine-tuning. We need to make sure that when we play our first (regular season) game (April 13), we are ready to go.”