Fearing injuries from the hard ground, Jordan had suggested that the UD1s forfeit; they said no. So, I told them to buy Dr. Scholls, she says.
A week later, on Rosa Parks south field, its a different story. The field is bigger— good for the UD1s, who can run fast and long—but its blanketed with uncut grass that slows the ball and trips up the feet.
Jose Ponce watches from the sidelines.
We dont always play on the greatest fields, he says. You gotta adjust to the conditions. You dont play on the field you want; you play on the field youre given.
The UD1s are one of 250 teams in San Diegos California Soccer League. Around since 1988, and founded by former Park and Rec employee Ricky Franchi, CSL started as a way to keep inner-city kids out of trouble. But then those kids parents wanted to play and the league expanded. These days, adult teams trend young—for the UD1s, for instance, the average age is 23.
The UD1s, who are currently in first place in their division, take the game seriously. During halftime, while other teams disperse to the sidelines to rest or chat, the UD1s huddle together while co-captains Larry Valdez and Pedro Adan analyze the game. Even if theyre winning, theyll break by saying zero-zero, meaning play the second half as if it were anyones game.
Jordan is trainer at the North Park gym Undisputed—the teams sponsor. She puts her players, 18 guys and one girl, through grueling workouts—but her influence on them goes beyond that. Shes given them all nicknames. Ponce is Cheese, Adan is Philosopher, Valdez is Two-Step. Theres Badger, ChaCha, El Show.
They call her Mama J, says Valdezs mom, Gisela.
Jordan spent much of her life a strident political activist, spearheading protests and running for office as a member of the Peace and Freedom Party. Now 47, shes mellowed—a bit. The UD1s warm-up jerseys feature Zapatistas, and Jordan still sports multiple earrings and a partially shaved head. A few years ago, she earned a degree in counseling psychology and is now working on one in nutrition. Shell regularly send the team emails peppered with advice about mental and physical well-being. Stop eating out! she implored in one email. Cook food at home—home cooking is sexy!
In the last year, Ponces dropped 75 pounds.
We started at that gym kind of caked out, he admits.
Right now, Jordans got the team focused on a goal bigger than being league champs. If they can raise the money, this summer, shortly before the London Olympics, theyll travel to Belfast, Dublin, Liverpool and Edinburgh to play a series of amateur friendly games.
I know that training for anything and working at anything as intense as being an athlete, you have to have a goal, Jordan says.
For Alex Gonzalez, whom Jordan nicknamed Badger, itll be his first time out of the country. He grew up in the foster-care system after his parents were sent to prison when he was 8 months old. He just turned 18 and aged out of the system, meaning hes now living on his own and struggling to get by. For Gonzalez the UD1s are like a family and playing soccer is his outlet.
Ive always had anger issues, and sports helps me calm down, he says. Soccers a way to free my mind.
That game on the overgrown field didnt go as well as the UD1s had hoped. They went in undefeated, but lost 3 to 1. But its the teams first season together and though several players attended the same middle school, played soccer there and have remained friends, most are just getting to know one another. Players communicate plenty during a match, but with any good sports team, theres an unspoken communication that takes place.
Weve got to learn our team; weve got to be comfortable with each other, Valdez tells his teammates after the match. (Though, left unsaid is the fact that the other team was handed at least six yellow penalty cards to the UD1s one.)
Its a process, Adan says. You learn from losing. Good teams dont lose twice.
Even with the loss, theyre still in first place. But Jordan knew it was hard to take. She sent the team an email early the next morning:
My gosh there are times I want to run on the field so you know I have your back. I often feel powerless standing on the sideline, even in our winning moments. But last night was a test of our spirit and as a team we did not falter or break.