For one moment, goals, celebrations and laughter seemed miles away.
As Waad Hirmez spoke, tears welled in his eyes. The subject was his father, Shakir Ajou, who died at 61 in Baghdad, Iraq, a year ago March, one month before he was to make his first trip to the United States to see his son play soccer.
Hirmez spoke to his father by phone two days before his death. He hadn't been to Iraq for eight years.
"It will be inside of me always that I didn't have a chance to see him," says Hirmez, a midfielder for the Sockers. "I was in shock for a long time after that."
Hirmez's trademark has always been his ability to extend his emotions to the fans. But this was something he couldn't share, not even with his mother, Suad, who lives with him in Point Loma and for years divided her time between her husband in Iraq and six children in San Diego.
"I used to go into my room and cry rather than cry in front of her," he says. "For a long time, I didn't even believe he was dead.
"I'm thinking about going back there for a visit this summer. I probably will have mixed emotions, because I expect to see my father, and I'll only see him in a cemetery."
Playing soccer has been a form of therapy. Socker owner Ron Fowler told Hirmez last spring that he could take time off, but Hirmez said: "I think my father would like me to go on and demonstrate that I am a great soccer player."
So that week, he went out and scored two goals in a game and helped the Sockers to a victory. Fowler went to the locker room afterward to congratulate him.
"He had tears in his eyes," Fowler says. "He said: 'I did that for my dad' "
When Waad Hirmez was growing up, Shakir didn't approve of his love for soccer. He used to tell him: "Son, you'll never afford a piece of bread playing this game," and Waad would respond: "Dad, wait and see. One of these days, I'll sign a contract."
For Hirmez, there was nothing better than soccer. He played every spare moment. He and his older brother, Raad, would go to the athletic club in Baghdad. Raad would play basketball, and Waad would play soccer with the rest of the younger brothers, using a ball made of rolled-up paper.
There were also games in the street.
"I used to come home with strawberries on my legs and my arms bleeding," Hirmez says, smiling. "It was exciting."
And there were games at school.
"I would start playing soccer before even going to class," he says. "By the time I went to first period, I was all sweaty and messed up."
His father would have preferred him to channel his efforts into something more serious. He was not a man who had time for games. Shakir owned a construction company. and Waad recalls him leaving for work at 5 a.m., returning for a nap in the afternoon and going back to his office for paper work after dinner.
Appropriate professions were engineering and medicine, not soccer. Still, soccer was what Waad most enjoyed, so he stuck with it and was determined to prove to his father that he could one day make a living at it.
Because his mother had an uncle who was a U.S. citizen, Waad, three brothers and two sisters were able to move to San Diego in 1979.
It wasn't long before Hirmez became somewhat of a celebrity at Point Loma High School, where he was named the section player of the year in 1981 after his only season of high school soccer. Until that season started, few people had paid much attention to him.
When he started scoring goals, that changed. He suddenly was popular, and even the principal came and thanked him for choosing Point Loma.
The day he graduated in 1981, his coach, Ed Leon, told everybody that his star player would soon be offered a contract. Eleven days later, Hirmez signed with the Sockers for $18,000.
It was during his senior year in high school that Shakir began to realize that maybe his son was really good enough to earn a paycheck by kicking a ball around.
"I got a lot of press in high school," Hirmez says. "I used to send it back to him, and he started changing his mind slowly. He used to tease me and say, 'How many girlfriends do you have?' "
To say that Hirmez's career has been without snags wouldn't be accurate. But what else would you expect? After all, he plays for the Sockers, the most unpredictable group of champions this side of the Milky Way.
Hirmez, 28, was cut twice by Coach Ron Newman, who had a team full of stars and no place for a young player with potential.
Since landing a full-time position in 1984, Hirmez has established himself as a dangerous shooter. A former player joked that the team should put up a tall fence to keep the shots that didn't find the goal nets from going onto the freeway.
Hirmez led the team with 29 goals during this regular season and scored his third career playoff hat trick to help the Sockers knock St. Louis out of the semifinal series with a 5-4 victory in Game 4.
Still, he says he doesn't always get the respect he thinks he deserves from his teammates, who have often said he's too concerned with his statistics and star status and not enough with becoming a complete player.
After rookie Wes Wade made a negative comment about Hirmez in the paper earlier this season, Hirmez confronted him and told him: "If you're going to say something about another rookie, that's OK. But don't you ever say anything about a veteran player."
Hirmez says that what bothers him is not so much the criticism as the fact that it never comes from somebody who is looking him in the eye.
"Nobody comes up to me and says 'You're selfish,' " he says. "But I always hear it behind the scenes. I'd never do anything to hurt the team, but I wouldn't do anything to hurt myself either. I will not change my style."
Hirmez's contributions are appreciated, says team captain Brian Quinn, but maybe not in the manner he would like.
"I think he enjoys winning as much as anyone," Quinn says. "He's always been a goal-scorer. That's his game. I think that when he plays his role, he is as important as anyone on the team.
"I think he's the kind of player that sometimes, when he scores his goals, will forget about the other parts of the game. His scoring speaks for itself. I think he should work on his all-around game."
Is he selfish?
"At times, maybe I am selfish," Hirmez says. "I admit that. But that helps me score goals. Sometimes when I try not to be selfish, I pass the ball, and a player doesn't finish. I think, 'What would have happened if I wouldn't have passed? I might have scored.'
"Everybody cares about points. Nobody can tell me they don't care about points. If you can tell me about any player or anybody who cares about other people before they care about themselves I would say they're wrong."
Newman said he has no problem with his attitude.
"A goal-scorer is naturally selfish," Newman says. "He can't be a goal-scorer without being selfish."
Perhaps what bothers many of his teammates is the feeling that Hirmez most wants to be put in the same star category as Branko Segota. So questions are whispered. Why does he celebrate so much? Why does he keep such careful track of his points?
No, Hirmez says. He says he is beyond the age of needing to have people tell him how great he is. It has more to do with self-fulfillment, he says.
"I'm a very proud person," he says. "I enjoy success. I'm never happy where I'm at. I always want to be more successful."
As for achieving the same status as Branko Segota?
"No," Quinn says. "Never. There's no one on this team that can play that way. Waady scores spectacular goals, but I don't think he has the necessary skills to be a Branko or a Preki."
If not a star, Hirmez is a player fans can identify with because of his flamboyant style. Nobody is likely to label him the best player on the team, but they might say: "You should see what this one player does. He comes out and kisses the ground. He jumps on the glass after he scores goals."
And, the way Hirmez sees it, there's nothing wrong with that.
"This is a show," Hirmez says. "How else are we going to get the people to come back?"
The Sockers open the MISL's Western Division playoff finals against the Dallas Sidekicks with games Friday and Saturday nights in Dallas. Game 3 will be in San Diego May 18.