Walter Restrepo wants what’s best for his team. He wants a championship run and a trophy-waving celebration in Fort Lauderdale.
To accomplish this, he asked coach Daryl Shore to wear jersey No. 10 in his second season with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
“In soccer, No. 10 is considered the playmaker,” Shore said. “The guy who wears the No. 10 is always earmarked on the field by other teams. So it comes with a lot of pressure.”
Restrepo has played more than 1,000 minutes on the field for the Strikers since their season opener in April. He’s on the field more than every other player besides teammates Jack Stuart and Conor Shanosky.
The 24-year-old is tied for first in the North American Soccer League with five assists. He also boasts three goals this season, tied for third place on the Strikers’ roster.
He said he has noticed significant improvement in his performance and attributed the development to steady training with the team. Shore said it’s Restrepo’s new understanding of his position on the team that make him stand out more this year.
Last July, as Restrepo signed on midway through the NASL’s regular season, he only accumulated two goals and one assist throughout 12 matches. He already has played in the same number of games in 2012, clearly with better results.
“Walter’s taken more of a leadership role on the team as far as becoming our playmaker,” Shore said. “He’s leading the team in assists. He’s really working hard to play on both sides of the ball, both offensively and defensively. He’s a real hard worker and a real technical player. He’s been a good asset to our group this year and one that we lean on when it comes to trying to help us get goals.”
Shore added that Restrepo’s abilities and lessons are still forming and that the San Diego native shouldn’t settle on trying to put every ball he gets between his feet into the net all by himself.
“It’s important he understands that not just scoring goals is what helps the team,” Shore said. “When you can set up goals, that is just as important as being the goal scorer. He’s taken it upon himself to be the guy that understands that not only is he able to score goals but he needs to be able to set up goals.”
Yet, Restrepo said he wants something besides just better statistics and a shiny metal object between his hands at the end of the season. He said he wants to see more fans in the stands at Lockhart Stadium.
“We want them to come and support us because we play for them,” Restrepo said. “If there are more people, then we’re more motivated.”
He said he definitely has noticed a bigger following for the team. Florida is a place where he sees soccer’s capacity to catch on like wildfire and where a genuine interest could develop.
Restrepo played in Colombia for several years before joining the Strikers and he said the main difference between playing there and in the Sunshine State is the pure passion the sport exudes from the Colombian crowds.
Since the Strikers share a state with their NASL rivals, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, there is a clear progression of this long-underpinned sport in Florida. In their latest bout with the Rowdies, the Strikers drew 3,255 fans to their home turf. In its debut match this season, Fort Lauderdale had more than 4,700 soccer enthusiasts witness a victory over FC Edmonton.
“In Florida, soccer is gaining momentum,” he said. “It’s in the process. Each game we see that people are coming more to the stadium. And that’s what we’re waiting for, for soccer to grow in popularity.”
Restrepo said he wants bigger accomplishments for his team, which currently ranks sixth in the NASL standings. He’s taking his game up a notch and wearing the No. 10 to prove he’s out to win it. The only thing remaining is a packed Lockhart Stadium to see him in action.