Salsa Coach Rildo Menezes, whose decision to pull his star player late in Saturday’s American Professional Soccer League championship game infuriated the team’s owner, resigned under pressure Thursday.
Menezes, a member of Brazil’s World Cup teams of 1962, ’66 and ’70, said he resigned “to spend more time with my wife and daughter,” but a Salsa source said he would have been fired had he not stepped down.
Menezes had one year remaining on a two-year contract, and the source said the coach and team reached a settlement under which the Salsa agreed to pay part of Menezes’ 1994 salary. The team has had informal discussions with Toronto Blizzard Coach Pedro Kozac, who was at Saturday’s championship game and is the leading candidate to replace Menezes.
The Salsa spent much of its first season at or near the top of the APSL standings, but lost eight of its last nine games and slipped to fourth place with a 12-12 record.
A 3-2 shootout victory over Vancouver put the Salsa in the league championship game last Saturday against the Colorado Foxes in Titan Stadium. The Salsa had a 1-0 lead with four minutes left when Menezes pulled forward Paulinho, the league’s most valuable player, for midfielder Arut Karapetyan.
The Foxes scored with less than three minutes left to tie the score, 1-1, and went on to defeat the Salsa, 3-1, in overtime in front of 10,743 fans.
Menezes said he pulled Paulinho because the player was tired and he wanted to get a fresh defender in the game. Team owner William De La Pena called the move “a mistake in coaching; he took him out at the wrong time.”
Added De La Pena: “There will be significant changes in the team next year, including the coaching staff.”
Menezes, 52, stood by his decision Thursday.
“We put someone in the game who was fresh,” he said. “I know Paulinho is the best player, but we needed someone who could run, run, run.”
Salsa fitness trainer Marcelo Torres also resigned Thursday. Octavio Zambrano, an assistant under Menezes, is expected to coach the team for its final 1993 game, an exhibition against El Salvador’s national team Oct. 15 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.