Sockers Boost Wright's Pay; Black to Leave

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Sockers dug deep into their pockets to convince forward Paul Wright to stick around next season but apparently will not dig deep enough to keep defender Ralph Black.

The Sockers announced Thursday that Wright has been re-signed for next season. Major Soccer League sources said Wright agreed to a two-year contract worth $45,000 next season and $60,000 the following season. He made $25,000 last season.

Sources said Black will sign a contract with the Tacoma Stars worth approximately $45,000. Black, 26, made $42,000 last season, and sources said he was offered an identical contract by the Sockers.

Because All-Star defender George Fernandez signed last week with the Cleveland Crunch, Black's departure leaves the Sockers with a huge defensive gap. The Sockers will likely try to find another veteran and the right blend of young players to surround starters Cacho and Kevin Crow.

"If we hadn't done it in the past, I'd be a little bit more concerned," Crow said. "I think there are a lot of good prospects out there so we can still have a very solid defense."

Wright, 21, helped rejuvenate the Sockers after returning from Cleveland in the trade that sent Zoran Karic to the Crunch. He had nine goals and four assists in 15 regular-season games and eight goals and nine assists in 16 playoff games.

Black, a nine-year veteran known for his physical style, had perhaps the best season of any Socker defender. Among the candidates to fill his position are Arturo Velazaco, who played sparingly as a rookie last season, and former San Diego State star Marcelo Balboa, who played for the United States in the World Cup this summer and was the Sockers' No. 1 draft choice.

Though Wright's increase of $20,000 is almost unheard of with the league's strict budget, it reflects the Sockers' expectations.

"One of the effects of the new salary cap will be some of the veterans on this team moving to new clubs," Socker President Ron Cady said in a prepared statement. "Paul has added the dimension of speed to the Sockers, and we expect him to be one of the younger players assuming a greater role both for this season and in the future of the club."

Wright was sought by several teams including the Crunch, for whom he played 37 games last season.

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