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Posted Sep 13, 2012, 9:47 am
Wolfgang Weber, the men's soccer coach at Salpointe Catholic High School and long-time fixture in Tucson's futbol scene, says Luis Robles has "accomplished more than any other Tucson soccer player."
There is a pile of evidence to make that case: the Cochise County-born goalkeeper was a standout with the Tucson Soccer Academy and then played for the University of Portland. Drafted by DC United, he decided instead to go to Germany, where he played for FC Kaiserslautern and Karlsruher SC. During his time with Kaiserslautern, he was part of the squad for the U.S. team that beat Spain on the way to second place in the 2009 Confederations Cup and made an appearance in the 2009 Gold Cup.
This summer, Robles transferred to the New York Red Bulls. Even though he'd been sought after in the spring, the team has landed him low in the goalkeeping pecking order, behind Ryan Meara, Bill Gaudette and Jeremy Vuolo. He's only played in one match: a reserve game against the Montreal Impact.
Weber points out that it isn't an unfamiliar spot for Robles. In his first year playing for Germany, he was a back-up keeper for Kaiserslautern's reserve team. But he worked his way up.
"If someone is there and does a good job, the coach isn't going to experiment," Weber said of the trouble of getting game time as a back-up goal keeper. "But, people get injured, places can open up."
The perseverance paid off for Robles. In the next season, with their usual number one, Tobias Sippel, out with a broken arm, Robles made 21 appearances for Kaiserslautern. The team had a coaching change and was promoted to the first division, but Robles was unsure about playing time with the newly healthy Sippel and he moved on to Karlsruher.
"It wasn't the ideal situation," said Weber. Robles was a foreign goalkeeper in a country proud of it's traditions of great goalkeepers. As an American goalkeeper, "You're not getting all the considerations you deserve."
After a season that involved the team getting relegated and Robles only getting five starts, he decided that it was a good time to play in the United States again.
Even with the travails of his career, Weber considers Robles a success story for the Tucson Soccer Academy, the local club that he helped start.
"Our goal was to within ten years have kids go to college, make the national team and play professionally," Weber said. "All of us are extremely proud of him, especially me."
Advice and support
Robles is equally happy to have worked with Weber, and they keep in touch.
"He's fantastic," Robles said in a phone interview. "He's one of my closest confidants. Leaving Tucson to go to college, leaving college to go to Germany, Wolfgang has been there every step of the way. He's like a second dad."
"He was on the forefront and helped me develop my game," he said of his time at the Tucson Soccer Academy. "Once I got to college, he was a parental figure, always making sure I did the right thing. When I became a professional, he stepped back. Rarely giving advice, just being there as part of my support system."
When Kaiserslautern earned their promotion and Robles was offered a chance to play in the first division, Weber was among those he turned to.
"There wasn't a chance for me to play off the bat...when we decided to go to KSC, Wolfgang was definitely part of that group of people that helped me make that decision," Robles said.
Robles calls Weber's role these days as that of a "support figure," but that doesn't keep Weber from keeping track of things.
"He knows more about my career statistically than I do," he said. "He'll tell me things that I didn't even realize."
Robles in Tucson?
The New York Red Bulls have participated in the local Desert Diamond Cup for the last two years. The organizers of the tournament, FC Tucson, are being tight lipped about what teams are interested in coming. The Red Bulls seemed to enjoy their experience here, and who wouldn't appreciate two weeks at La Paloma over March in Harrison, New Jersey?
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Should the Red Bulls make it out here next year, it will be Robles's first chance to play in front of a local crowd since his days at the Tucson Soccer Academy.
"It would be unbelievable," Robles said. "Going back to my home base..playing in front of friends that wouldn't be able to come to games in New York...it would be a dream come true."
"But for now, we're focused on the post season," he said of his team, currently in third place in the Eastern Conference. "but if that comes up, it would be incredible for me and my family."