Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Alex Sandoval Dreams Of Wearing The Atlas Colors


(Published in print in the United States – July 2001)

Raised in Bridgeton, New Jersey, Alex Sandoval is an American. But unlike many whose families originated in Europe and who seem to think their ancestors simply grew out of the ground here, Sandoval knows who he really is.
"I was born here, but my blood is Mexican," he said from his home Friday.
That kind of self-awareness permeates America's Latino community.
In fact, just last week the Sandoval family was back in Mexico. But this time was special. While there, 18-year-old Alex had a soccer tryout with Mexican club giant Atlas of Guadalajara.
"They said they liked the way I play," said Sandoval, a returning senior striker for the Bridgeton High School team. "They test your conditioning, see where your footwork's at, see whether you're a team player or an individual."
The evaluation took place at the club's youth facility, not the grand stadium seen regularly on Sundays during Univision's Mexican League broadcasts. The left-footed Sandoval, a 5-foot-8, 165-pounder, is hopeful Los Zorros, as they're known, will bite.
"They said they'll give me a call," he said.
Sandoval's dreams certainly aren't misguided according to Thomas Masucci, his high school coach at Bridgeton.
"He's one of the best players I've ever seen at the high-school level," Masucci, a native of Italy, said Friday of Sandoval -- who scored 25 goals last season. "Alex basically has everything it takes to be a pro. He has the talent, skills, ball control and precision. He's a natural soccer player who was born with the talent."
Masucci is a 52-year-old supporter of "glorious" Italian club Juventus who's been Stateside for 25 years. He touched on the factors he thinks will push Sandoval, who's scored 40 career goals for Bridgeton, over the top.
"He needs discipline," the coach said. "He needs to work out every day and do all the other things pro players do.
"Like all the great talents, Alex has a personality that's not the average one. A good coach is one that not only understands the game but understands the individual. Alex has not been able to be consistent as far as being coached. Bridgeton is not an easy team to coach. You have to be experienced and be in control.
"Alex gave me 100 percent last season and he was a major factor in our team's success. He really excelled. He has the ability to go on and play major college soccer."
Sandoval, one of three siblings, shares his coach's vision. "Hopefully I can go to college," he said, cognizant that only the best go on to play for a club like Atlas. "My immediate goals are to have another solid season with Bridgeton and try to get at least a division title."
Sandoval began playing the game at age 9 under the tutelage of his father Pedro. "Every day, my dad took me out there to teach me," Sandoval said. "He taught me to shoot, pass and dribble -- everything. I played baseball at first, then I broke my arm. I liked soccer as soon as I started it. It was competitive and you needed a lot of skill to play."
Sandoval played for the Seabrook-based Cohansey Soccer Club for four years before moving on to the South Jersey Stars, an independent club that plays matches in Mercer County against teams from throughout the state as well as Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Besides Atlas, Sandoval supports Major League Soccer's MetroStars "because they're from New Jersey" as well as the national teams of the United States and Mexico. "They're both going to be in the World Cup. Mexico will sneak through," he said. "Soccer's growing here (in the U.S.) more than it used to be. I see it all the time."
As far as players, Sandoval cites two as his inspiration. "Barcelona's (Brazilian) Rivaldo is my favorite," he said. "I like the way he can take charge of the game. He can shoot, he can score, he can pass. He breaks down defenses. He's the man.
"I also like (Liverpool's Englishman) Michael Owen. He can change the game with his speed and he cuts on a dime."
Sandoval outlined his own skills when prodded. "I'm more of a dribbler who likes to play one-on-one," he said, admitting the Latin influence on his game. "What you learn depends on who you play with. If you play with Spanish people you learn their slower, dribbling style. If you play with other Americans, you get a faster game. It's good to play with both. That way, you learn a little bit of everything."
Sandoval soaks it all in every Sunday, as at least 15 people -- "my family, my dad's friends -- gather at their house for the Mexican League broadcasts on Univision or the various leagues shown on Telemundo. "Sometimes I can't watch because I'm playing my own games," he said.
If that call does come from Atlas, the roomful might one day be watching Sandoval ply his trade in that storied red-and-black shirt. Just maybe.