Waad Hirmez’s left leg and his mind must have very different conceptions of what constitutes speed.
The muscular leg of the Socker defender produces 71 m.p.h. curveballs into the far corners of the net. That’s fast.
It has taken five years and three tries with the Sockers before the 24-year-old former Point Loma High School star has begun to make his mark in the professional ranks. That’s slow.
On the field, Hirmez uses his boundless energy and powerful legs to scrap for loose balls in the corners. While sipping orange juice at breakfast Thursday morning, Hirmez discussed how his disappointments and ordeals have forced him to learn patience.
“I went through so much,” Hirmez said. “The only player on the team who went through as much as me is Jimmy Gorsek. We’ve had to struggle for what we’ve got. But it’s paid off.”
As he was leaving the Socker office Thursday, a member of the Socker staff called out, “Great goals last night.”
Another person asked, “Waad, how did you get the ball to curve past the goalkeeper like that?”
These are very good times for Hirmez, who had two-goal playoff games against St. Louis last Wednesday night and against Tacoma Wednesday night.
Hirmez had 13 goals and 12 assists in 35 regular-season games and has five goals and one assist in five playoff games. He has been taking regular shifts recently and has become a mainstay on the team’s power play.
“Now, it’s glory time,” Hirmez said. “I’m not a superstar yet, but I’m on my way.”
Getting a chance to play was his first major hurdle. Clearing that obstacle was accomplished midway through last season, when defenders Gary Collier and Brian Schmetzer were injured and Hirmez was signed to a 10-day contract on two occasions. He scored three times in 12 games and made enough of an impact on Coach Ron Newman to warrant a contract for the 1985-86 season.
On a successful veteran team like the Sockers, cracking the lineup is almost as difficult as being accepted by your teammates once you do start playing.
“Every time I used to shoot,” Hirmez said, “Jean Willrich would ask why I shot the ball. During one home game after one of my shots was high and wide, Jean said: ‘If you’re not going to pass the ball, someone will take your place.’
“Juli (Veee) would say, ‘Why didn’t you pass the ball?’ I took a lot of yelling and screaming from the players. It hurt inside, but I didn’t let it affect me. I went out and played my game.”
Hirmez gives a lot of credit to Socker assistant coach Johan Aarnio.
“He kept me alive through the struggling times,” Hirmez said. “He told me all I needed was quality playing time and I’d be a player. I respect him so much for that.”
Said Aarnio: “Waad needed someone that was both gentle and firm with him at the same time. He is maturing on and off the field and has become a very versatile player.”
Hirmez--who was a striker until the Sockers turned him into a defender--hustles and blocks shots and is continually running to take some pressure off the veteran players. And he booms what Aarnio calls his “lethal shot.”
When the Sockers’ power play was struggling this season, Newman put Hirmez on the right wing in an attempt to take advantage of his powerful shot.
“Ron told me just to take that left-foot shot,” Hirmez said. “He gives me lots of confidence and said he thinks I have one of the strongest left-foot shots in the league.”
What caused a lefty, who relies primarily on his left foot, to be put on the right wing?
“My bender,” Hirmez said, “is very effective from the right side.”
Suddenly, with Hirmez on the wing and Ade Coker back in the lineup, San Diego’s power play began to click. Hirmez finished the regular season with seven power-play goals, which placed third on the team behind Branko Segota and Coker.
“Right now,” Hirmez said, “I think the veterans have a lot of confidence in me.”
And Hirmez has a lot confidence in himself.
“Now, I don’t mind playing anywhere on the field,” said Hirmez, who has periodically balked at making the transition from center forward to defender.
“I used to always hate defenders,” Hirmez said.
However, the Sockers needed him to play defense, and they thought he would make a strong defender who could successfully move forward to the attacking zone.
“Waad is now able to discriminate between needs and wants,” Aarnio said.
Hirmez has had his share of hard knocks since moving from Iraq to the United States. As a 17-year-old, he was one of 40 players selected to the Iraq National Youth team, but he decided to bypass that opportunity in favor of living with his brother, Saad, in Point Loma.
Hirmez learned to speak English at the Catholic schools he attended in Iraq and his family owns two liquor and two grocery stores in San Diego. His parents would remain in Iraq, but Waad was ready for a change.
“I told them not to worry,” Hirmez said. “I told them, ‘I’ll still be the same person you raised.’ ”
His parents offered him financial and emotional support and Waad headed for the United States, where he enrolled at Point Loma High and changed his name from Waad Ajou.
“I was ignored all the way at the start of school,” Hirmez said. “I had only a few friends before soccer season started. Then they (students) started seeing me in the papers. Girls, guys, everyone came and started talking to me. The principal even thanked me for coming to the school. It was a 360-degree turnaround.”
After being named the San Diego Section Player of the Year in 1981, Hirmez said he was offered scholarships to San Diego State, University of San Diego and United States International University. He also was offered a contract to play outdoors with the Sockers.
“I’ve been playing soccer since I was 5,” Hirmez said, “and I always dreamed of playing professional soccer.”
Hirmez played for 17 minutes in one game with the Sockers that first season and was cut before the indoor season. He played for the National University soccer team and continued to train with the Sockers. In 1983-84, he played outdoor for the Sockers, but once again, he was not offered an indoor contract.
“I wondered if this was going to work,” Hirmez said. “But my family told me to go anywhere I wanted for a tryout. I thank God to have a family like I have. They helped me financially and did not let me give up.”
There were tryouts in Tacoma, Phoenix, more adventures with the National University team and then a tryout with Wichita before the 1984-85 season. Cut again.
It was back to work in his family’s liquor and grocery stores in San Diego.
“People would come into the store and ask me if I used to play with the Sockers,” Hirmez said. “That was hard for me.”
On Thursday morning, Hirmez was eating at a local restaurant when a fan stopped him and said, “Great game last night.”