The San Diego Sockers will formally retire the jersey number of Paul Wright during a pregame ceremony on April 7 at Ron Newman Field at Pechanga Arena San Diego.
Kickoff is 5:05 p.m. for the team’s Major Arena Soccer League match against the visiting Rio Grande Barracudas.
The popular forward, who played both indoor and outdoor soccer from 1987 through the 2012-13 season, will have his No. 3 jersey retired and a banner hung in the arena rafters.
A 1986 graduate of Grossmont High School, Wright will join a number of Sockers legends to have had their numbers retired and a banner raised in the arena.
Retired numbers by the Sockers include those worn by Juli Veee (22), Kaz Deyna (10), Jean Willrich (15), Kevin Crow (12), Brian Quinn (14), Zoltan Toth (1) and head coach Ron Newman.
“There’s a lot of tradition and pride when you put on that uniform,” said Wright about playing for the Sockers, who have collected 14 indoor soccer championships in franchise history. “There’s a lot of tradition when you look up at all those banners. You don’t want to let all the guys who played on those teams down. As a player you feel pressure to live up to the standard they set.”
Wright set quite a standard himself.
He scored 435 goals and recorded 421 assists in his 603-game career with the Sockers, Cleveland Crunch, Milwaukee Wave, Baltimore Spirit, Wichita Wings, Sacramento Knights, Baltimore Blast, Anaheim Bolts and outdoors in the Major League Soccer with Kansas City.
Wright, known at every level for his speed, set the Grossmont High School single-season record for scoring with 39 goals his senior year.
Wright first made a splash on the soccer pitch with the San Diego Nomads in the Western Soccer Alliance (later Western Soccer League), from 1987-1990. During that time, he scored 15 goals in 37 games for the Crunch in the original Major Indoor Soccer League from 1989-1990.
The Crunch traded Wright to the Sockers in March 1990 and the speedy Wright left his mark in his first stint with the team by scoring 101 goals in 100 games from 1990-92.
Wright led the Sockers in scoring during the 1991-92 season with 50 goals and 27 assists in just 39 games after finishing third in team scoring the previous season with 38 goals and 23 assists in 51 games.
The Sockers won MISL championships both seasons; Wright was named the Unsung Hero Award winner in the 1991 championship series.
The MISL folded following the 1991-92 season and the Sockers would join the Continental Indoor Soccer League for the 1993 season but without Wright.
Wright played the 1993 season for the Milwaukee Wave in the National Professional Soccer League, scoring 45 goals in 25 games.
The Wave owns distinction as the longest continuously operating professional soccer team in the United States, being active since 1984.
Wright returned to outdoor soccer with the Los Angeles Salsa in the American Professional Soccer League, notching 25 goals in 42 games from 1993-94.
Wright returned to play indoor soccer from 1993-95 for the Baltimore Spirit and Wichita Wings in the NPSL and the Sacramento Knights in the CISL. He tallied 62 goals in 35 games for the Blast in 1993-94; the Knights lost to Monterrey La Raza in the 1995 CISL final.
Wright joined the Kansas City Wiz as a charter member of MLS in 1996 and scored 11 goals in 88 matches with the team through 1998 as he was reunited with Newman as the Kansas City coach.
The Wiz advanced to the conference final its first season, losing to the LA Galaxy. The renamed Wizards finished as the regular season conference champions in 1997 but lost in the opening round of the playoffs to the Colorado Rapids.
The MLS team is now known as Sporting Kansas City following a rebrand in 2011.
Wright remained on the outdoor pitch from 1999-2002 as a member of the Western Mass Pioneers for which he scored 22 goals in 55 matches.
The Pioneers won the 1999 USL D-3 Pro League championship and advanced to the conference finals in 2000.
Wright remained on the East Coast to play indoor soccer for the Blast, appearing in 124 matches from 1999-2002 while scoring 86 goals, as the team made the transition from the NPSL to the rebranded MISL II.
The Blast made appearances in the conference final in both 1999-2000 and 2000-01.
Wright appeared in seven games on loan to the Philadelphia Kixx in 2001.
Wright has played four separate times for the Sockers during his career. He rejoined the team in the second version of the MISL from 2002-05 during which he scored 33 goals in 59 games.
Wright played for the Southern California/San Diego Fusion during the 2006 outdoor season in the National Premier Soccer League.
When the third incarnation of the Sockers debuted in the Professional Arena Soccer League, Wright signed with the fledgling club and appeared in 28 games while tallying 24 goals from 2009-11.
The Sockers won three PASL and three U.S. Open Cup for Arena Soccer championships during Wright’s tenure with the reborn franchise.
Wright saw limited duty in his final years of playing indoor soccer, appearing in eight games (scoring four goals) for the PASL Anaheim Bolts in 2011. He scored six goals in nine games after rejoining the Sockers for the 2012-13 season.
He retired as an active player at age 43 following the Sockers’ 8-6 triumph over the Detroit Waza in the 2013 PASL championship game in which he scored a goal.
At the time, he called his retirement from the game he loved “bittersweet” but admitted it was the right time to stop the punishment to his aging body.
Blast from the past
The April 7 banner raising ceremony will be held in conjunction with the Sockers’ annual alumni halftime game.
Toby Taitano, a 1990 graduate of Valhalla High School, participated in last year’s alumni game, calling it an “honor.”
“It’s always a fun time and very humbling for me to join that crew on the field,” Taitano noted of last year’s game.
Taitano, who collected 60 assists as a Norseman, scored 44 goals and collected 62 assists during a 76-game pro career that spanned three seasons in the CISL from 1994-96 with the Sockers and Seattle SeaDogs.
Taitano ranked fourth in team scoring on the Sockers in 1994 behind John Olu-Molomo, Keder and Rene Ortiz with 24 goals and 23 assists in 28 games.
Taitano tallied 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists) during the 1995 season to rank sixth in Sockers scoring.
He closed out his CISL career by scoring 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 20 games with Seattle in 1996.
Taitano played for the University of San Diego Toreros from 1990-93, finishing as the school’s fifth all-time scorer with 81 points on 17 goals and 47 assists.
The 1992 USD squad advanced to the NCAA Division I championship game against Virginia.
“I wish I could have been part of the crowd that won a championship (with the Sockers) but it wasn’t meant to be,” Taitano mused. “I still cherish the days of playing for our hometown club and I miss the tomfoolery and needling that took place in the locker room.
“The game has given so much to me during my life … national championships with the Nomads as a youth, NCAA runner-up at USD, and then a brief playing career for the Sockers. Not to mention the tremendous education at USD and all of the amazing/lifelong friendships.
“I am so proud of (current) Sockers head coach Phil Salvaggio and the gang for what they have accomplished over the years. It has been a remarkable run for this organization and I hope they can continue for many years to come.”
The 2018-19 Sockers are currently riding a 15-game winning streak and own the best record in the MASL at 20-1.
For more information, visit the website at www.sdsockers.com.