Words don't come easily for San Diego Sockers midfielder Waad Hirmez since war broke out in the Persian Gulf.
Hirmez, 29, was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and spent the first 16 years of his life there before joining his brother, Saad, in San Diego.
"I moved to the United States for freedom," said Hirmez, who was accompanied by his mother, two brothers and two sisters. "The only thing missing in Baghdad is freedom. I played soccer in the streets there and have some great memories. Iraq was a more peaceful country when I was there. I don't know what's happened."
Hirmez, who became a U.S. citizen in 1986, said Saddam Hussein was not as aggressive 13 years ago.
"He ruled the country with a iron hand, but the military buildup was not as big as it is now," said Hirmez, who is in his seventh season with the Sockers.
Even though Hirmez has strong ties to Baghdad (two aunts, two uncles and 10 first cousins are there), he considers himself an American.
"If I was really defending that country [Iraq], I wouldn't have gone to all the trouble to get my U.S. citizenship," he said. "My mother is really glad we came here because she knows all four of her sons could be on the front line fighting now."
Hirmez said he holds no malice to anyone in the United States who speaks negatively about Hussein and Iraq.
"People talk out of feelings and emotions and don't really know anything about Iraq," he said. "I never thought there would be a war. I knew President Bush wasn't bluffing here. I just don't think they [Iraqis] took the U.S. seriously. Either that or they underestimated the U.S."
Hirmez said tears came to his eyes Tuesday night in Tacoma (before Sockers took on Stars) when a moment of silence was held to pay tribute to U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf.
"I can't really put it out of my mind," said Hirmez, "because at any moment I could get word that my uncle is dead. We can't reach any of our relatives over there, so we have no way of knowing what's going on."
The morning after the fighting began in the Gulf, Blast coach Kenny Cooper said: "While we're here trying to win our little war [MSL games], there's people in a real war. We're in a serious business, but when you look at war, our business is a drop in the bucket."
Almost everybody around the MSL believes that Blast midfielder Billy Ronson, the team's leading scorer, finally will be selected to the Eastern Division All-Star team this season by his fellow players.
But Ronson isn't too popular among rival players because he has a tendency to wear out their patience with an aggressive style of play.
"Billy's a good player," said Cleveland Crunch defender Bernie James. "But he can get on your nerves."
Ronson said he was hurt so much last year when he was left off the team that "I don't really care whether I make it or not this year."
If the players don't chose Ronson (ballots were due Friday), he could still be one of four players selected by Cooper, who is coach of the East squad.
Former Blast midfielder Mike Sweeney has been reinstated b the Cleveland Crunch after being suspended for eight games for openly criticizing former Cleveland coach Kai Haaskivi.
Sweeney was expected to play last night against the Kansas City Comets in Kansas City, Mo.
The Crunch tried to trade Sweeney to San Diego for Glenn Carbonara and to the Dallas Sidekicks for Marcello Carrera.
The San Diego Sockers are six-time Major Soccer League champions, and they've won three straight MSL titles.
But before climbing into a first-place tie with the Tacoma Stars in the MSL Western Division Jan. 6, the Sockers had not been in first place in their division since April 17, 1988 (the last day of the season).
San Diego was 25-27 last season but still won the playoffs.
Sockers coach Ron Newman said: "Has it really been that long since we've been on top? I thought we were in first all last year. All I had to do was turn the newspaper upside down."
Former Howard University star Peter Isaacs began workouts with the Dallas Sidekicks last Monday.
Isaacs was the No. 1 draft pick by the Sidekicks in last summer's MSL collegiate draft. But he didn't sign with the team at that time, choosing to finish his education at Howard last semester.
United States Soccer Federation president Alan Rothenberg will the featured speaker at the MSL All-Star luncheon in Kansas City, Mo., Feb. 12.
The Kansas City Comets are the hosts of the MSL All-Star Game, on Feb. 13.
Comets owner Chris Clouser said: "As president of the USSF, Alan is the leader of the 1994 World Cup, the most popular and well-attended sports event in the world. He will provide insight into the future of soccer in the United States. He has a tremendous amount of experience in sports [president of the Los Angeles Clippers from 1982-89, member of the NBA Board of Governors for 15 years and commissioner of soccer for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles]."
Claudio Reyna, a senior midfielder from St. Benedict's Prep School in Newark, N.J., has been named the 1990 Gatorade Circle of Champions National High School Player of the Year.
The award is based on overall athletic and academic performance throughout his high school career.
Reyna, 5 feet 11, 165 pounds, had 62 goals and 59 assists in three seasons.
Todd Haskins of Howard High School was the 1989 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year. Haskins is a freshman at the University of North Carolina.