Cherif Zein stands in front of the St. Francis High soccer goal and touts his players as they scrimmage on a field sparsely peppered with tufts of grass. He speaks with the enthusiasm of a used car salesman trying to unload his fleet.
"That's Peter Morales. Check out the size of his legs," boasts Zein, who was born in Egypt and speaks with a thick accent. "He's playing soft now but he just runs over guys in games." Zein swivels and watches 2 tall, lithe players in bright green jerseys passing the ball behind the goal. "There are my goalkeepers. Most coaches would be thrilled to have one of them--I have both."
He turns back to the field and points to Bobby Guerrero. "See how smooth. . ." Zein's voice trails off. He watches Guerrero as if he has just rediscovered the fluidity with which his star player dribbles the ball.
Zein, whose team is 9-1 and was recently ranked eighth in the Southern Section 3-A Division, need not point out Guerrero. The junior midfielder is about as conspicuous as Donald Trump in a soup kitchen.
His green eyes and freckles are offset by his dark hair and dark skin--contradictory earmarks of his Mexican-Irish descent. Guerrero's aggressive on-field demeanor sharply contrasts with his congenial, almost giddy attitude away from the game. Absent is the smug air of many franchise players.
Guerrero's teammates chase him as if they are wearing bedroom slippers 3 sizes too large. He spins and jukes, chatters and sprints, all the while keeping the obedient ball in check. A teammate nears and Guerrero blasts the ball downfield with the same leg that booted many of last season's school-record 18 goals--including 3 consecutive 3-goal games--and has notched a few of Guerrero's 7 goals this season.
But his elusiveness on the soccer field pales in comparison to the evasive tactics Guerrero employed 3 years ago in avoiding Zein. Though he participated in Zein's summer camp before his freshman year, he opted not to play his freshman season in order to concentrate on his studies.
Guerrero could not drop the sport entirely, however. He would spend his afternoons spying on varsity practice from a cluster of bushes on the hillside which overlooks the St. Francis soccer field. Once, Zein spotted the youngster peering through the brush and announced the uninvited guest's presence to his team.
"He yelled up to me," Guerrero said. "All the players were laughing but I kept watching. He still teases me about it."
He picked up the sport again his sophomore year and was an All-Southern Section and third-team West Coast All-American selection.
This year he began running with the school's cross-country team. He was a natural, finishing second on the team and eighth in the Del Rey League, but there was a conflict. Many cross-country races were held at the same time as his Pasadena soccer club matches. He would often opt to pound the pitch over the path and entertained the idea of quitting cross-country.
"It was a great aggravation," Coach Mark Mitchell said of Guerrero's apathy for cross-country. "What can you do when the kid's a soccer star and cross-country is just a fringe benefit? You need all the horses you can get."
Because of a school rule which prohibits a student from quitting a team and then participating in another sport the following semester, however, leaving cross-country would have been costly.
"I said, 'Please don't dare (quit),' " Zein said. "Not this year. I've been waiting for this for eight years. I was worried. He's like the quarterback of your football team and it's the only one you have."
Not wanting to risk his soccer season, Guerrero continued to run.
Zein says that Guerrero's commitment to soccer was apparent in St. Francis' second game against Loyola last season.
He was hampered with a bad case of the flu but came off the bench to score both of the team's goals in the 3-2 loss to the Cubs, who were ranked second in the Southern Section.
Zein adds that Guerrero does not burst like a jack rabbit but instead glides like a gazelle. He economizes motion and cruises with deceptive speed.
"I would compare him to (basketball's) Jamaal Wilkes," Zein said. "Everything is smooth and soft and he's just silk with the ball."
And Guerrero has the ability to make a defender resemble burlap.
Goalkeeper Alex Poli says Guerrero is a litmus test of sorts for the Golden Knights.
"Sometimes he's off and you notice it right away," said Poli, adding that a Guerrero slump knocks the whole team out of kilter. "Our team passes and everything is off. But when he's on, he controls the game."
Being at the helm is a comfortable position for Guerrero. His main offensive responsibility as a midfielder is to dole out the ball to the front-line players.
And his fancy passing is no passing fancy with his teammates.
"Most people think he's a star so he should be scoring all the goals," Poli said. "But he's not selfish and that's what makes us a better team."
However, Guerrero has a different rationale for dishing off the ball.
"The reason I don't hold the ball is because I don't want to get hit," said Guerrero, adding he is now a marked man by opponents. "Last year I had to score to get recognized but now they keep me tight. But I'm going to get through."