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Rookie Defender Makes Big Move to the Sockers : Tabrizi Came to San Diego Via Iran, New Hampshire

November 12, 1987|CHRIS DE LUCA

SAN DIEGO — Eight hours a day, five days a week, from 3 to 11 p.m., Hormoz Tabrizi works the front desk of the Nite Lite Inn in National City. He checks in guests, answers phones and takes room-service orders. He makes $4.50 an hour.

This is not the typical evening schedule for a professional athlete.

Tabrizi, a rookie defender for the Sockers, has found that playing in the Major Indoor Soccer League doesn't necessarily mean expensive cars and a lavish life style.

But life style is relative.

Tabrizi, who moved to the United States 4 1/2 years ago from Iran, was very excited when he became a Socker last week.

"I had tears in my eyes when I got back to my car after I signed the contract," he said.

Tabrizi, 22, who was an All-American at Hawthorne College in New Hampshire, was signed by the Sockers last Thursday to a one-year contract. He'll be paid $2,000 a month. Enough to make this a happy, if implausible, ending to a trip on which Tabrizi set out nine months ago.

"Of all of the bad things I had to do (last week), like letting players go, the one nice thing I did was tell (Tabrizi) he had a chance to make the squad," Coach Ron Newman said. "He was so excited, like I had just handed him a million dollars."

Tabrizi, who was born in Tehran, decided last winter that he wanted to play for the Sockers. Never mind that he had never played indoor soccer. Never mind that he lived in Antrim, N.H., and the Sockers had never heard of him. He packed his belongings, which were few, and headed for San Diego.

He knew only one person in San Diego, Mostafe Arab, National University's soccer coach, and that association was only through telephone conversations.

Somehow, he talked his way onto the Sockers' reserve team . . . and got his job at the Nite Lite Inn.

After less than a year on the reserve team, Tabrizi was called up for San Diego's season opener last week in Wichita.

"I was nervous until right before the game," he said. "The other players came up to me, shook my hand and gave me confidence, like, 'Have a good season, it's only a game.' "

And those pregame assurances may have been soothing later because Tabrizi made a rookie mistake that led to a Wichita goal in the third period. On the Wichita end of the field, he committed a senseless foul, the Sockers' sixth of the period, and it led to a successful Wichita power-play goal, tying the score, 2-2. The Wings eventually won, 5-3.

"You expect that from a rookie," said Newman, who affectionately calls Tabrizi "The Tank," for his aggressive style of play, a nickname that seems ironic now, because his country's army and its involvement in a war caused Tabrizi to flee his homeland when he was 16.

He faced being drafted by the Iranian army after high school. So he chose to leave Tehran before completing high school and come to the United States, where his father had attended Harvard University and at the time was living in this country with three of Hormoz's brothers.

He departed for New Jersey to be united with his father and brothers, leaving his mother and a sister behind in Iran. Since then his family, including his mother and sister, has moved to San Jose.

Tabrizi immediately excelled on his high school soccer team and was named to the all-state team.

When he came to New Jersey 4 1/2 years ago, when relations between Iran and the United States were at a very low point, Tabrizi quickly felt the sting of American feelings toward Iranians. He was called names and confronted by people wearing T-shirts with disparaging messages about Iran.

"They would come up to my face and say, 'Look at this shirt.' I couldn't speak English, but I knew what they meant," he said.

On his second day in America, Tabrizi attended a soccer game at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands. The now-defunct New York Cosmos were playing an exhibition game against a team from Brazil in front of 75,000 fans.

"I said, 'Wow, soccer must be really big here,' " Tabrizi said. "But not too long after that, the Cosmos folded and the players left. Then all I heard about was the San Diego Sockers, all of the time."

The Sockers were in the midst of winning five indoor titles. Tabrizi's favorite player was Steve Zungul, now of the Tacoma Stars.

So last December, he came to San Diego and asked for a tryout with the Sockers' reserve team.

"We get quite a few players like that," said Guy Newman, who coaches the reserve team. "I wasn't sure what type of visa he had or what position he could play. But we'll look at anybody. You never know what you can find."

Guy Newman discovered that Tabrizi had a difficult time adjusting from outdoor to indoor soccer. But midway through last season with the reserve team, Tabrizi began to gain confidence and sped up his style of play to suit the much faster indoor game.

"It was really hard for me at the beginning, because I didn't know a lot of the tricks about indoor soccer," Tabrizi said. "Indoor seems easy, but it really isn't easy. Guy helped me out a lot and told me what to do."

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