The San Diego Sockers have hit the free agent market hard the last two seasons in an aggressive push to capture the city’s 15th arena soccer title, but the team’s “We Are Committed” slogan extends off the field, too. The team brought back former Sockers midfielder Rene Ortiz as an assistant coach to supplement Phil Salvagio’s coaching staff.
“Once we knew Rene was going to be a free agent we were interested,” said Chiky Luna, a former Sockers player and current Director of Player Personnel. Ortiz spent the last two seasons as the Head Coach of Sockers rival Atletico Baja, which ceased operations after last season. Baja went 22-18 and qualified for the playoffs both years, despite having one of the smallest payrolls in the MASL.
“We know from playing against him how good of a coach he is and how well he motivates his players and the quality he brings out in players,” said Luna. “The only question we had was whether he would be interested in being an assistant coach. He bleeds Sockers and he was always at our games. It’s been nothing but positive.”
“Phil and Chiky approached me and I am very grateful to them for inviting me to be part of the Sockers,” said Ortiz. “This is where I started playing and now I can give something back to this great organization.”
Luna said the team was careful to outline everyone’s roles up front so that Ortiz, Salvagio, and fellow assistant coach Ray Taila would all be on the same page. All three coaches were teammates on the 1994 and 1995 Sockers.
“We all interchange ideas for the best of the team,” Ortiz said. “I help Phil in any capacity that he wants me to: training, players evaluations, game analysis, game preparation, line ups, whatever.”
This is Ortiz’s third stint with the Sockers. He played for them straight out of high school from 1987-1990 and then returned from 1993-95. In all, he played 120 regular season games and won three championships with the team. He also played for the Milwaukee Wave, Cincinnati Silverbacks, Monterrey La Raza, and Arizona Thunder, as well as a stop in MLS with the Dallas Burn over a 300 game career.
Coming over with Ortiz from Atletico’s staff is new Sockers Goalkeeper Coach Victor Melendez. Ortiz and Melendez met during a Cal South Coaching Instructors seminar in 2009 and Melendez has been at his side since 2015 in both Baja and with the Mexican National Futbol Rapido Team, which Ortiz has coached since 2002.
Last month, Ortiz took the Mexican team to Tunisia where they lost in the finals of the World Minifootball Federation World Cup to Czech Republic. Along the way, Mexico eliminated the American team that Salvagio formerly coached. Following the motto ABC: Always Be Coaching, Ortiz is also a Physical Education teacher at Hilltop High School and coaches the girls’ varsity soccer team.
While the Sockers have failed to return to the Newman Cup finals the last four seasons, Ortiz does not make presumptions as to why they have fallen short. “It would be very irresponsible of me to tell you what has happened to them in the past,” he says. “I was not part of that process, so my evaluations will be inaccurate. However, I think I can help the team with proper training and preparation, in addition to giving Phil a different perspective of things.”
Through two games the Sockers are 2-0, including a road win in El Paso and a narrow home win over Syracuse. “I think we still are about 60-70% of the total ability and capacity that these group of players can give us,” said Ortiz. “We started late in our preseason due to the World Cup in Tunisia. We need to find the right chemistry between players and solidify our style of play. We are working to make this process as quick as possible.” Rest assured, the Sockers are committed.