SAN DIEGO — The race was on.
An orange and black soccer ball had a considerable head start and was spinning toward the goal. Suddenly, Socker defender Fernando Clavijo, inserted as a sixth attacker and wearing a goalkeeper's jersey, started sprinting from midfield.
The ball was spinning and Clavijo's thin legs were churning.
Just as the ball was about to cross the goal mouth, Clavijo kicked it away.
Quick now. Who is the fastest player in the Major Indoor Soccer League?
Defender Greg Blasingame of Tacoma? He reportedly has been timed in 4.2 seconds for a 40-yard dash. Gary Etherington of Minnesota? Branko Segota, Cha Cha Namdar or Waad Hirmez of the Sockers?
"I can't say I'm a better player," said the soft-spoken and usually quite modest Clavijo, "but with my speed, I can say they never have a chance (in a race)."
Is it any surprise that Clavijo drives a red Porsche?
He has been the fastest guy on his block since he used to dribble 10 blocks from his parents' home in Punta del Este, Uruguay, to beautiful beaches, which because of their hard sand, were perfect for playing soccer.
"We used to always run and play soccer on the beach," Clavijo said. "And I used to run 100 and 50 meters in high school. Nobody beat me in my country."
And nobody is beating him up and down the field in the MISL.
Especially not in the MISL championship series, which continues Friday with the Sockers and Strikers tied at one game each.
"The first time I played against him," Namdar said, "he was burning our players so bad."
At the time, Namdar, whose nickname is the "Speedy One," was playing for Phoenix while Clavijo was on the New York Arrows. Since they have become teammates, Namdar has come to a quick realization that he is "Speedy One" II on the Sockers.
"He (Clavijo) is by far the fastest on the team," Namdar said. "He would beat me by a good two to three yards if we ran 60 yards."
Not only is Clavijo fast, but he also is one of the leading candidates to win the MISL defender of the year award. The winner will be announced Tuesday.
"If it happens," Clavijo said, "that will be beautiful. But I'm more concerned with the team winning than with Fernando Clavijo doing good. My main job is to save goals. These awards are often based on statistics. If you score 20 to 30 goals and you're a defender, you win defender of the year. Sometimes that makes me crazy."
Wichita's Kim Roentved led the league's defenders in scoring with 26 goals and 38 assists for 64 points.
Clavijo, a former forward who was shifted to defense when he joined the Arrows five years ago, had a career-high 26 points, which included 17 goals. His five short-handed goals tied Daryl Doran of St. Louis for the league lead. In 10 playoff games, Clavijo has three goals and five assists for eight points.
"The increase over last year really just happened," Clavijo said. "But when Steve (Zungul) left, I felt I had to go forward more and help the team more offensively than I used to."
Clavijo and Zungul were acquired last year from the Golden Bay Earthquakes, which had folded. In his first season with the Sockers, Clavijo had five goals and four assists. He played in pain and missed nine games last year because of his tender right knee, which was operated on three years ago.
"I know that speed is 90% of my game," Clavijo said. "I couldn't do much because of my knee and was probably playing about 60%. Therefore, I didn't pay any attention to offense. My main concern was not to have any more pain."
During the off-season, Clavijo did extensive bike work and exercises to strengthen the knee. However, he was still quite concerned when training camp began.
"I was scared," Clavijo said. "The doctor said the knee should be OK, but I still felt weak. . . . I was also afraid because I was about to start my option year. If you get injured in this league, as soon as you finish your contract, no one cares about you again."
Clavijo and Bob Bell, the Socker managing general partner, sat down to talk. The result was a three-year contract for Clavijo.
"I think Bob Bell took a chance and I took a chance," Clavijo said. "I took a pay cut, but I got a guaranteed no-cut, no-trade contract. Once I got that new contract, I felt that whatever happens (with the knee), happens. At least my family would be taken care of."
Clavijo rarely speaks more than a few sentences without talking about his family--wife Martha and 3-year-old son Jonathan, who recently gained notoriety when he kicked the ball in the net during a game played between quarters of a home playoff.
"My wife gives me a lot of support," Clavijo said. "She has helped improve my play 95%."
And he says his knee is now 100%.
Named to the Western Division All-Star team this season, Clavijo also finished second on the Sockers in blocked shots, behind defender Kevin Crow.
It has been the type of season Clavijo dreamed about since 1979, when he left Uruguay after playing six years as a forward for Atenas, one of the best teams in Uruguay's First Division.