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Bouncing Around

Soccer Has Taken Soto All Over the World, but He Hopes to Find a Home With Zodiac

April 23, 1998|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whenever someone asks Eddie Soto to describe his professional soccer career, he remembers his brother's now prophetic line.

"He said, 'Any time you go professional, it's just like the entertainment industry--some days you're on the top of the world, and other days you just want to stay in a shell and never come out,' " Soto said. "It's been like that for me."

Soto, Cal State Fullerton's all-time leading scorer, recently crawled out of his shell to sign with the Zodiac, days after being released by the San Jose Clash of the MLS. It was the second time in three years Soto had been a late cut by an MLS team. In 1996, the Metro Stars sent a devastated Soto packing.

But with two young children to support with the help of his wife in Huntington Beach, Soto hasn't had time to let the bitterness consume him. He has moved on--bouncing from the Los Angeles Salsa, to USA Pro Beach soccer, to a job as a machinist and now to the Zodiac of the A-League.

All that bouncing and Soto is still only 25 years old. How much longer can he keep searching for a niche?

"I don't know," he said. "I have this conversation with my wife all the time."

The conversation usually ends with no resolution, but that doesn't mean Soto hasn't thought about changing careers.

"If something good comes along, I have to think of my family," Soto said. "I've experienced pro soccer, but I can't depend on soccer or the coaches. They only tell you what you want to hear."

And most of the time, Soto says, it's not the truth. But Soto says the latest coach to cut him, San Jose's Brian Quinn, was brutally honest.

"He told me I could hang around the roster for another month, but that I wouldn't be making the final cut," Soto said. "They just had too many big name forwards. I appreciated Brian's honesty."

Quinn's honesty led Soto back home, where Zodiac Coach Mike Gartlan was waiting with a contract.

"I felt bad for Eddie, but I was happy for our team," Gartlan said. "They just had an overload at his position in San Jose. Any time you're trying to break in with anything, you have to be so much better than what they have."

Gartlan believes the Zodiac and Soto are a perfect match--both are looking for respect.

"I think this could be a real breakthrough year for Eddie Soto," Gartlan said. "I think he's out to prove himself to people. He's real focused and he's in great shape."

Soto stayed in shape despite working 10-hour days on a machine that cut metal for motorcycle and computer parts.

"For someone who had played soccer his whole life, it was a big adjustment working those kind of hours," he said.

Soto remained in shape by training at a health club. He focused on improving his speed and agility. He didn't need much help with his strength. Two years of playing beach soccer took care of that.

"It was pretty grueling," Soto said. "Your legs just build. Mine got so big."

When he received a phone call from USA Pro Beach Soccer, Soto had no idea what he was getting into. But after getting released by New York of the MLS in 1996, Soto was in no position to be picky.

"I said, 'I don't know what the hell it is, but I'll do it,' " he said. "Then I saw a tape of it, and I thought, 'This is incredible.' "

And Soto said it was a pretty incredible existence.

"I lived like a rock star for two years," he said. "We traveled to the French Riviera, Spain, Brazil, Germany, Portugal, Malaysia. We stayed in the nicest hotels."

The pay wasn't bad either. Soto said he made about $15,000 for a three-month season.

"If I could play beach soccer year round, I'd do it," Soto said. "It was a great experience for me. Our games were on TV all over the world. It kept me in the limelight and I was scoring a lot of goals."

He was also improving his skills for the outdoor game.

"Your technique has to be good, because you're dribbling on the sand," he said. "It's pretty bumpy."

Now that he's back on grass, Soto would like to see his career level out. Enough of the highs and lows. Soto is ready for stability.

"I want to start scoring some goals for the Zodiac," said Soto, who didn't attempt a shot as a midfielder/forward in the Zodiac's season-opening 1-0 loss to Seattle. "I want to be one of the leading goal scorers in the league. We have a great setup here. I'm looking forward to a great season."

Soto and the Zodiac resume their season at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at UC Irvine against Long Island.

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