For the past three years, George Fernandez has played defense for the San Diego Sockers. His resume includes Major Soccer League championships the past two seasons. His reputation precedes him.
"Who is George Fernandez?" quipped Blast forward Tim Wittman. "I'm kidding. I know who George Fernandez is. He's a very good, quick defender. But San Diego has so many good players, he was just another good player."
Well, not anymore. Now George Fernandez is team captain of the Cleveland Crunch, which plays the Blast at the Arena tonight at 7:05.
In San Diego, Fernandez played defense on one of the most offensive-minded teams in the MSL. As Wittman said, he was an All-Star surrounded by All-Stars.
Until last season, it was big, aggressive defenders, such as Kevin Crow and Ralph Black, who got most of the attention, while Fernandez, who played in a club record 177 consecutive games, got what was left over.
Last year, he got his share. He was named San Diego's Most Valuable Player on defense after leading the team in blocked shots with 98. He was the MVP of the league's All-Star Game.
This year, he's in Cleveland.
"I love being here," said Fernandez, an eight-year veteran who was the No. 1 draft choice of the now-defunct Cleveland Force in 1983. "I'm from Hawaii, but coming back here is like coming home. I like the changing of seasons. I like the snow. I like the school system, and I like that the police are more strict in Cleveland than they are in San Diego."
Fernandez slipped through San Diego's grasp. Because of financial uncertainty, the Sockers delayed putting their team together until late summer. By then, it was too late because Cleveland had come through with an attractive offer.
Fernandez is one of three new Crunch players in the starting lineup, joining former Wichita defender Gregg Willin and former Tacoma midfielder Andy Schmetzer. Fernandez also is adapting to new rules, with larger goals and a greater distance between defender and the ball on free kicks.
The effects of those changes were felt at the Arena Saturday night when the Blast and St. Louis Storm combined for 22 goals in a 13-9 Blast victory. The combined goals were second to the 25 produced by the New York Arrows and Phoenix in 1981. Baltimore's 11 goals in one half (the second) set a league record.
"It's a challenge," Fernandez said of the changes. "I don't like to stagnate. Each year I want to improve.
"They can throw whatever new rule changes they want at me. The bigger goals haven't changed the way I play. It just means picking up my man a little earlier."
Cleveland coach Kai Haaskivi likes Fernandez's approach.
"I made George captain because of his attitude," Haaskivi said. "He comes from a team that is used to winning . . . maybe that will rub off on some of my other players."
Just what is it Fernandez brings?
"It is a confidence, an arrogance," said Fernandez. "It is believing no one can beat you."
Said midfielder Mike Sweeney, "George's attitude comes from within. It is pure enthusiasm for the game and it is contagious . . . But I think he would display that attitude even if he was coming out of college."