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George Azcurra on the fringes of hitting it big

With a team that's young, short on experience and amidst a rebuilding process, it's not unusual to find a veteran player that stands out among the pact.

In professional sports, only an elite few ever make to the top level and in the case of veteran Toronto Croatia goaltender George Azcurra, hitting it big time has always been one step ahead of him.

It all started back in 1987, at the age of 13, when Azcurra decided to play his first organized game of soccer. Before long, he found himself moving up in the ranks of amateur soccer and at the age of 19 was being coveted by colleges south of the border.

After losing the Ontario Cup Final of the Ontario Soccer League back in 1992, when he was a member of Mississauga United, Azcurra was recruited in the fall of '93 by Mercer County Community College in Trenton, New Jersey of the National Junior College Athletics Association.

In his first year of play, he helped his squad capture the region 19 NJCAA championship. The following year his squad made the nationals and finished in third place, but Azcurra had the best season of his young career. He won goalie of the year in the NJCAA and that accomplishment led to his recruitment by seven Division One universities in the National College Athletics Association.

He eventually accepted an offer from Boston University and the rest his history. He helped their squad capture back to back American East Championships in 1995 and '96 before graduating with a degree in computer science.

Following a distinguished career in college and university, Azcurra went pro in the summer of 1997, signing with the division three Rhode Island Sting Rays of the USISL; now know as the United Soccer Leagues. After playing two years with the Sting Rays, he decided to return to Canada.

In the spring of '98, he participated in tryouts with the Toronto Lynx of the A-League before being cut. Then the summer of '98 turned out to be uneventful, as he took a step back in his pro career, by accepting a starting role with amateur club Woodbridge Sora of the OSL. But it was not long before the Toronto Croatia came calling for a starting goaltender, and Azcurra jumped on the opportunity and officially joined the team in 1999.

Now five years later, at age 30, Azcurra is still the starting goalie and his accomplishments in the CPSL have caught the eyes of many. He won the goalie of the year award three times in the past five years, in 1999, 2001 and 2002. He was also a finalist for the award in 2000 and many around the league felt that he should have won it in 2003.

It's through these accomplishments on the pro level that have garnered him attention from elite clubs overseas. He tried out in the winter of 2001-02 for Southend United, a Third Division club in England. Due to his lack of experience at the national level, he fell short of a spot on the team. He then participated in tryouts in Portugal with Santa Clara, a first division Portuguese team, but poor timing along with the fact the club already had three goaltenders played a major part in his trip being cut short.

But that hasn't stopped him from realizing his dream to one day play professionally full time overseas.

"If an opportunity arises to go overseas and play pro, I would certainly entertain it," said Azcurra. "Until that time, I will continue to play pro here in Canada and would like to remain in soccer in some capacity."

Let's hope it's with the CPSL.

Paul Munster
George Azcurra
Lucio Ianiero
Phil Ionadi
Abraham Osman
Mladen Dikic
Eddy Berdusco

In addition to Toronto Croatia, which other club has won the CPSL championship twice?
St. Catharines Roma Wolves
Ottawa Wizards
Toronto Olympians
North York Astros

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