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UC IRVINE NOTEBOOK / JOHN WEYLER : Breza's Look, Game Are Strikingly Familiar

October 04, 1994|JOHN WEYLER

The tangle of long, red hair and the red goatee. The way he flies through the air and slams his head into a soccer ball. They all add up to the inevitable comparisons to U.S. World Cup star Alexi Lalas.

Most, however, are not complimentary. But Rich Breza can deal with those who say he's a wanna-be.

"Yeah, I get it a lot," he said. "We play similarly, in the air a lot. Of course, it's the whole look, but I've had the long hair since I was a freshman in high school.

"If I miss a header, though, it's always, 'Oh, Lalas missed that one.' "

Breza, Irvine's No. 2 scorer with four goals and five assists, didn't miss last week against UCLA when he scored on a header that helped upset the Bruins, second ranked at the time, 4-3. The goal didn't quiet the Bruins, but it knocked them down to 10th in the rankings.

"P.J. (Polowski) and I just kept listening to them talk and looking at each other like 'Let's wait until this is over before we say a thing,' " Breza said. "Guys marking me are always making comments, but talking smack is not really my game."

Breza's game, which Coach Derek Lawther describes as "rough and tough," was showcased only in club games last year. Breza, 22, was majoring in political science at Long Beach State and playing with the Costa Mesa Hiberians.

He had some offers to play at small schools after his second year at MiraCosta College in San Diego but decided to concentrate on getting his degree. He moved into an apartment in Newport Beach below Jeff Fischbeck, a senior midfielder for the Anteaters, and started playing some summer pickup games with the Anteater players.

"I watched him play a couple of times with the Hiberians," Lawther said. "He was very good in the air, but he didn't look fit. I thought he would be a great target man who could rough it up. We found out he had a year (of eligibility) left and brought him in.

"I wasn't sure if he had the pace for Division I, but it's worked out because he's been a workaholic since the first day of preseason training. He's really gotten himself fit."

Polowski, a senior transfer who is two goals shy of tying the Anteaters' career record after only 1 1/2 seasons, and Breza have become best friends and a perfect combination of finesse and force.

"P.J. is everything I'm not and sort of vice versa," Breza said. "He's very quick and is always buzzing around everywhere. But he's thin and not that strong. I'm a little more stationary and they play the ball up to me and then P.J. runs off me."

Polowski scored 11 goals last season; he has nine this year.

"P.J. took all the heat last year," Lawther said. "He was double-teamed everywhere he went. Rich can pull two players together and P.J. can play off him and get one-on-one. It doesn't happen as often as I'd like, but it is happening this year."

Breza has wanted to play Division I soccer since his first year at Fallbrook High and the culmination of his dream was highlighted by the victory over UCLA.

"Beating UCLA was so awesome," he said. "All your life, you hear about UCLA and there are guys playing there that I played against in high school. There are a lot of politics in soccer. If you don't play on the right club team, then you don't get to the right college."

So Breza considers himself fortunate for his second chance. Like Lalas, many doubted he was talented enough. But, like Lalas, his knack for getting his head on the ball has paid off.

*

Say what? Breza on the game plan against the Bruins: "UCLA obviously has better skill and they're probably one of the fittest teams in the country, so we sat back, collapsed, pushed out and counter-attacked, you know, kind of Romanian style."

We're nodding like we know.

*

A moving experience: Breza is an avid surfer who was riding waves before he was riding a bike.

"People don't realize that surfing is one of the most physical sports and easily the hardest sport," he said. "I play golf, I've played baseball and basketball, but surfing is the most difficult. First, there's wave judgment and then the wave's moving, the board's moving and you're moving."

*

All good things: Irvine's seven-game winning streak ended Sunday night when the Anteaters lost to San Diego, 3-1. The Anteaters are 8-2 and still feeling pretty good about themselves, however.

"We met a good team and they went up (by) two quickly," Lawther said. "But the last 20 minutes were ours. We had loads of shots. Their keeper was really on and saved a couple of bombs. Then they broke away for one in the last minute.

"But it wasn't a drubbing or anything."

Anteater Notes

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