July 2, 2003

Wagner's First Year Has Been Educational

July 2, 2003

By Dylan Hernandez
San Jose Mercury News

Among the discoveries Aly Wagner has made during her time as a professional athlete is that even she has a lot to learn.

Nearly three months, and 11 games, into that educational process, the former Presentation High and Santa Clara star will make her first trip home to San Jose since the start of the Women's United Soccer Association season. She and the San Diego Spirit take on the CyberRays tonight at Spartan Stadium.

``There's been more to adapt to than I expected,'' said Wagner, who was drafted No. 1 overall by the Spirit in February and who has been labeled by some as the United States' first great playmaker.

Wagner, a 22-year-old midfielder, has learned to make her first touch into open space, to look for passing options long before she touches the ball, and to be more cautious until she enters the front one-third of the field. And -- perhaps most important -- she has learned to take every game seriously.

``All the teams are very even,'' Wagner said. ``In college, there are some games you can slack off.''

Even at the senior international level, where Wagner began playing while in college, the competition wasn't as intense because of the Americans' domination of the sport. But her game has come together during her rookie season. On Saturday, Wagner bent a free kick into the CyberRays' goal, helping San Diego defeat San Jose 2-1.

``The last couple of games, she's shown us what she can do. She's battling in the midfield for balls and has become a presence in the midfield,'' said Spirit Coach Omid Namazi, who added he has been impressed with Wagner's defensive development.

  • Wagner was one of five former or current Broncos named to the U.S. national team's 25-woman training roster for a July 13 friendly against Brazil in New Orleans. The others were Brandi Chastain (CyberRays), Kylie Bivens (Atlanta), Danielle Slaton (Carolina) and Leslie Osborne (SCU).

    LaKeysia Beene and Thori Bryan of the CyberRays also made the squad. The match is the Americans' last before Coach April Heinrichs reveals her World Cup roster.