Feb. 1, 2003
SAN DIEGO - Aly Wagner can shred a defense. Utilizing pinpoint through balls and chips that drop out of the air onto teammates' feet, Wagner can leave the opposition stymied, stumped and done for.
But what goes through the mind of a player who can see the narrowest of passing lanes and then provide a stunning delivery?
According to Wagner, the voice running through her head belongs to her coach at Santa Clara, Jerry Smith.
"Regardless of whether I'm playing for him or not, I know what he would say in certain situations," said Wagner. "I know the right spin to put on the ball, the right pass to make, and in essence, I'm a better decision-maker because of having played for him. I see the game at a whole new level."
The most important lesson Smith has taught Wagner is to pay attention to the details.
"Not only have I improved technically, but I think tactically I've become an even smarter player because of all the little things maybe a lot of coaches don't see or don't even coach," she said. "Jerry's really strong in those areas and really implements that into our own games."
Wagner's career at Santa Clara may be over, but her growth as a player shows no signs of stopping. After starting for the U.S. national team at the Four Nations Tournament in China, Wagner is seeking a return trip to China in September for the Women's World Cup where the U.S. will defend its title as the world's best. The rewards of playing for the national team have been significant.
"I've gotten more confidence just playing with the national team and playing at such a high level," she said. "I feel more comfortable out there on the field."
Before Wagner can concentrate her full attention on the World Cup, she has her first WUSA season ahead of her. The only question remaining is which team's uniform she will be donning. Many believe it is a foregone conclusion that the San Diego Spirit, owner of the first pick in the 2003 WUSA Draft, will select the talented midfielder. Wagner may be the only one who is not convinced.
"I'll believe it when it happens," she said.
She also downplays the idea of being the projected No. 1 pick.
"I think it's just a matter of what the team needs," Wagner said. "It doesn't mean anything."
Wagner does know what to expect when she enters the WUSA. During the summer of 2002, she attended most of the San Jose CyberRays home matches, where her mom serves as the volunteer coordinator of the volunteers. Wagner liked what she saw on the field.
"The level of play stepped up from the first year, and I think that the level of play is going to continue to get better," she said. "It's great to see the foreigners mixed in with a lot of the national team players here on U.S. soil. It's good competition, and I think it's good preparation for everyone."
Beyond soccer, Wagner has carved out time for school in 2003 as she works towards her degree in combined sciences. Taking a class this quarter and hoping to take another in the spring quarter, Wagner is about 30 units -- less than a full year's course load -- shy of graduating.
As the winner of one of the NCAA Today's Top VII Awards for outstanding senior student-athletes, Wagner has maintained a 3.438 grade-point average by effectively managing her time.
"Most college students probably party a lot more than I ever have," she said. "I think I've been forced to stay on task and on schedule. Being away from my classes so much, I've just learned how to teach myself what it is I'm supposed to be learning. I probably end up putting in more time than the rest of the students."
After her soccer career ends, Wagner could see herself entering the coaching ranks. Her dream job, however, is working undercover for the CIA or FBI. But for now going undercover will have to wait.
The main stage is calling.
Be sure to follow the 2003 WUSA Draft Live on WUSA.com at 11:00 am ET on Sunday, February 2. Tune in to the Live Draft Audio Show, follow team selections real-time on wusa.com and get the inside scoop on all draft-day transactions. Email in your draft-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your question is answered during the live draft audio show, you'll receive an autographed WUSA mini-ball.