Saddleback Soccer Player Hears Mexico Calling : Carlos Zavala Is Having Sweet Season, but Longs to Return to His Homeland

Times Staff Writer

At the Saddleback High School boys' soccer games, the crowds may not be big, but they appear to be extremely affectionate.

From the sidelines and the stands come the cries: "Come on Sweetie! Let's go Sweetie!"

Fan support is nice, but this is ridiculous.

But the terms of endearment aren't for the whole team. Though, last week, Saddleback rewarded its fans by clinching its first Sea View League championship since 1982, the cheers are for just one player, Carlos "Sweety" Zavala.

Zavala, 18, has had the nickname--given to him by his mother--since he was a little boy. Now, "Sweety" is the name that graces his letterman's jacket and that his classmates and teammates call him.

This season, Zavala's performance has been sweet, indeed. Zavala leads his team in scoring, with 19 goals. The achievement is quite a reversal from last season, when he only scored five goals and was eclipsed by his younger brother Beto, the team's starting fullback.

"It was a completely different team last year in its heart," Zavala said. "This year we are more positive. My game has improved 100 percent."

The only senior starter for Saddleback, Zavala--who plays club soccer for Colo-Colo in Orange County--is providing the team with leadership.

"He has matured a lot this year," Saddleback Coach Mel Silva said. "When I have a kid who I can't hype up for a game, I have Sweety talk to him and the kid is ready to go."

Zavala is a free spirit. He wears sunglasses splattered with different colors of paint, that he claims are easy to see through, "once you get used to it." During football season, when Zavala is a field goal kicker he sculptures his hair into radical styles, at one point shaving his number, 34, on the side of his head.

"I like being different," he said.

And Zavala is planning something different for after he graduates. He is thinking about going to Mexico to try to play professional soccer.

Zavala was born in Toluca, outside Mexico City. His father, Carlos Zavala, Sr., who now assists the Saddleback team, was a professional soccer player on Toluca's team for 18 years.

His father retired in the early 1970s in order to spend more time with his family, and came to Orange County to coach semi-professional soccer. But he still maintains ties with the Mexican soccer community.

"My Dad always told me that he'd take me down to Mexico and let me try out for the professional team," Zavala said. "It's what I'd like to do."

When the Toluca team toured California last year, Zavala met the president of the team, who was encouraging. Zavala's father, who calls directions in Spanish from the sidelines during games and uses a special whistle to signal instructions to his two sons, told Carlos last season that he needed to improve a little bit before he could play in Mexico. That was last year, and Zavala thinks he is playing well enough now to have a shot.

Though Zavala has a trip planned to Fresno State, and UCLA and UC Irvine have both expressed interest in him, he isn't sure he will have the grades to be accepted by those universities. He is interested in studying at the University of Mexico, but grades aren't the only reason he wants to play in Mexico.

"I haven't been there in 10 years," he said. "People talk about places, and I don't know where they are, and they say, 'but you're Mexican.' I want to learn more about Mexico.

Said Silva, Saddleback coach: "It will be a different environment for him. There, (in Mexico) any kid on the streets has the same ability he has. But if he wants to do it, I support him."

Zavala doesn't have to make up his mind yet. This week, he must concentrate on the first round of the playoffs.

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