New Empire Strykers coach has a unique résumé – Press Enterprise

Logic would dictate that Paul Wright, the new coach of the Empire Strykers arena soccer team, will get plenty of respect from his players, and not just because of his stellar playing background.

After all, for a time as a speed coach he worked with Ray Lewis. And if the coach was able to tell the seven-time All-Pro linebacker of the Baltimore Ravens, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, what to do and how to improve, who are any of these guys to mouth off to him?

Wright, now 54, has plenty of soccer chops as well – 435 goals and 421 assists in 603 games, the vast majority of those indoors (while playing in five different leagues) but including 11 goals in 88 games with Kansas City in Major League Soccer, from 1996-99 as one of the league’s pioneers.

Wright’s number 3 hangs in the rafters at San Diego’s Pechanga Arena, where he played eight seasons for the Sockers. He’ll be back in San Diego, as the visiting coach, Sunday evening.

The Strykers, who changed their nickname last season after being known as the Ontario Fury, hired Wright to rejuvenate a team that has missed the Major Arena Soccer League playoffs the last two seasons and faded down the stretch in 2022-23, going 0-4-2 in their final six games to finish 12-9-3 and in sixth place in their division. They return for their home opener Friday at Ontario’s Toyota Arena against Baltimore with a 1-2 record and with recent signing Marco Fabián, a former member of Mexico’s World Cup side, expected to make his debut with the team.

As for the Lewis connection, Wright began working with the Ravens as a speed consultant in 1998, when he was midway through his career as an active soccer player. In becoming acquainted with Alonzo Ruffin – now a high school track and field coach in Maryland and also for a time a Ravens speed consultant – the idea of training athletes as a career intrigued him.

“I just kind of tagged along with him and saw what he was doing with these athletes and figured that this is something I could do,” Wright said.

Out of that experience came the concept of “Speed To Burn,” a training program he established during his playing career. He has worked with athletes from soccer, football, baseball, volleyball and track and field, and the training involves “anything to do with speed and agility, quickness, explosiveness, running technique, form,” he said. “That’s kind of what I’ve been perfecting for the last 20 or so years.”

After working with Lewis, he said, “I thought there’s nothing that I can’t do. There’s no athlete that I can’t train. There’s no one that should not listen to me. If this man is listening to me, then there’s no one else.

“I had a tremendous experience with those guys, learned a lot about as far as team culture is concerned, being a team leader, how a team leader acts in a locker room, how he acts in the weight room, on and off the field. So yeah, that was a tremendous opportunity that I got a chance to work with him. I’ve worked with some fabulous, great athletes. But he would definitely be at the top of the list.”

Speed training helps only to an extent in indoor soccer, played on a carpet laid over a hockey rink and with many of the same characteristics as hockey – playing the ball off the boards, substitutions on the fly, etc.

“It’s not about your outright speed,” Wright said. “It’s more being explosive. It’s a lot of change of direction. It’s a lot of footwork and just awareness. … That’s why you see a lot of the smaller, shorter guys having some success because they’re obviously lower to the ground, easier to change directions.”

Individual training is different from whipping a team into shape, especially for a first-year head coach such as Wright. But ex-coach and now Strykers executive vice president of operations Jimmy Nordberg feels he’s got the right guy in the right place. And he referenced not only Wright’s soccer knowledge and aptitude but his community involvement, including with “Matters Athletic,” a foundation designed to help underprivileged youth through sports, education and mentorship.

“What he’s done in the game, what he’s done after playing, it was a no-brainer for us,” said Nordberg. “He’s implemented his style of play. We’re athletic. We’re young, we’re fast, and we’re exciting to watch. … (He’s) made a personal touch and a personal connection with each and every player. And the guys are bought into what he’s trying to do. … I mean, he’s a legend in our sport. He’s played at every level, and there’s that respect factor from the other players in the league, and other coaches and everybody around the league.”

And, Nordberg added, “He could probably still get out there and play with half of these teams.”

Asked how much he draws from his experiences with other sports and other athletes, Wright said work ethic and focus are preeminent.

“My NFL guys and guys that I’ve got playing at a high level, their work ethic is just different from everyone else,” he said. “They’re not afraid of hard work. When the workout’s done, they’re looking for, ‘What’s next?’ And I feel like that’s a great quality that I want to bring with these guys, just the work ethic alone.

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