CARSON -- It has been a long road from playing soccer at Alhambra High and Cal State LA to coaching in the MLS. But for Martin Vasquez, the journey has been worth it.Vasquez graduated from Alhambra in 1981, playing soccer all four years in high school, before playing three years of collegiate ball and is now currently the coach of MLS team Chivas USA, which plays its home games at Home Depot Center.
"I learned a lot," Vasquez said of his time as a Moor. "I got my high school diploma there. I'm proud of my alma mater."
After playing at Cal State L.A., Vasquez - a native of Yahualica, Mexico who moved to California when he was 12 years old - was offered a chance to play professional soccer in his native country with Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara. He never looked back.
Following a five-year stint as a professional indoor and outdoor player in the U.S. with the Los Angeles Lazers during the mid 1980s, the defender-midfielder debuted in Mexico's First Division with Universidad de Guadalajara (1988-1990), before moving on to Puebla (1990-91), Veracruz (1991-92) and Atlas (1992-1996). Playing in both defense and midfield, Vásquez appeared in more than 300 league matches, and in 1991 and 1992, he played 10 games with the Mexican national team.
In 1996, he returned to the United States where he gained U.S. citizenship and played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny (1996-1997) and the San Jose Clash (1998) of the MLS as one of the top defensive midfielders in the league. In three seasons, Vasquez played in 87 matches, starting 83 of them, scoring nine goals and adding 16 assists.
Vasquez made his debut with the U.S. National Team in 1996 in a World Cup Qualifier against Guatemala played in San Salvador, El Salvador.
But coaching was on the horizon for Vasquez, he said.
"After I stopped playing in 2000, I got my coaching license in the U.S. and started coaching youth, high school, college and eventually professional soccer," he said.
In fact, Vasquez coached at his high school alma mater, in addition to coaching at Damien High in Pomona and at Cal Poly Pomona, he said, adding, "both my parents still live in Alhambra."
And why did he pursue a career in professional soccer?
"I played for 17 years," Vasquez said. "I loved everything - the competition and doing something I'm very passionate about."
Vasquez said he got involved playing soccer when he was a child.
"As a kid, I grew up in Mexico and played soccer," he said. "I just loved it, got into it, got the opportunity and took advantage of it."
He also had some words of advice for kids who want to play soccer on a grand scale, telling them in Spanish, "Si se puede!" or "Yes, you can!"
"When you have goals and objectives and you work hard, I think you can obtain them," Vasquez said."
While it is no secret that Chivas USA is having a rough season in its first year under the helm of Vasquez - the team is currently 3-8-1 - Vasquez said he is looking to change that.
"We've been unfortunate in losing some very close games in the 90th minute and we've had a couple of injuries," he said. "But we can turn that around by making sure we are focused and by not making mental mistakes at the end of the game."
And as for who he likes playing in the World Cup, Vasquez offered this: "I like Spain, Germany, Brazil, Mexico and the U.S. I think all have a good shot."