When there’s a ‘Will’, there’s a way

Alexis Lopez (left) and Alejandra Carvajal (right) pose with assistant coach Willie Diaz on the soccer field at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif. on Oct. 24, 2016. Photo by Taylor Arthur
Alexis Lopez (left) and Alejandra Carvajal (right) pose with assistant coach Willie Diaz on the soccer field at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif. on Oct. 24, 2016. Photo by Taylor Arthur

Soccer is more than just a sport. For some, it guides their lives. Women’s soccer assistant coach, William Diaz, 38, has played the sport his entire life and turned it into his career.

Diaz grew up in South Central LA and took the bus to the San Fernando Valley to go to Reseda High School.

“I had no choice,” Diaz said. “The schools in LA were overcrowded and at that time they started to bus inner city kids to the Valley. It was a state program.”

After school, Diaz had soccer practice, which led to multiple bus rides in areas that he said were unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

“My club team trained out here, so I would wake up at six in the morning to go to the bus stop and go to school at Reseda,” Diaz said. “Then when we got out I would get a bus to Northridge, then to Ventura, take the bus all the way to LA, and then I would have to walk a certain amount of blocks in neighborhoods that are not the friendliest.”

Diaz is the eldest of three siblings and made a reputation for himself at Reseda before his brother began there. His achievements have been recognized and noted in the local news several times.

“I had the record for most goals in one year with 36, but I heard it’s been broken since I left. I left with the all-time [highest] leading score for Reseda High School. I was a two-time first team in the Los Angeles Times, two-time first team all in the Daily News. I was first team all conference three years in a row, I was all CIF,” Diaz said. “My brother went to Reseda and it was tougher for him just because I left with a lot of accolades, you know? I was pretty well known there.”

Diaz received several scholarship offers for college, but ultimately decided to go to California State University, Northridge and continued playing soccer there. By his senior year, Diaz was coaching an all-girls-under-12 club team called Valley United.

After going overseas for tryouts in the professional soccer world, Diaz took on coaching club teams and eventually coached at CSUN. Diaz came to help coach at Pierce in 2001 when the women’s soccer program first started. He then came back in 2013 as assistant coach.

“In 2012, I was helping out at Northridge with the women’s program and we made the NCAA playoffs, but then Adolfo said he had an opportunity at Pierce to come and help him out, so I decided to come to Pierce,” Diaz said. “He’s known me since I was younger when I was playing club out here in the valley back in the early 90s.”

Women’s soccer coach, Adolfo Perez, has been at Pierce for 16 years. He considers Diaz to be a valuable asset to the coaching staff.

“He helps me with everything, mostly on the technical part. He warms the girls up, he stretches them, he does drills, he does the first part of practice,” Perez said. “He’s a good teacher of the game. He knows the game. I have a lot of faith in him. I trust him.”  

Diaz was nicknamed “Willie” by the coaching staff and the players on the team. He has made connections with players that help them improve their soccer skills.

“Willie pushes us to do our best. He’s hard on us which makes us better; he’s the tough coach,” said sociology major Nani Reese, a first-year student at Pierce and member of the women’s soccer team. “You can go talk to Willie if you need to; he knows his players well.”

The women’s soccer team at Pierce is ranked ten in the Western State Conference. They have won two out of the last three conferences.

“I’m not saying I’m a part of it, but I’m saying Adolfo has given me the opportunity to share in his success,” Diaz said. “It’s a privilege and an honor to work for Adolfo Perez, he’s the big boss hall-of-famer.”

Diaz is also a big part of the recruiting process and goes to many high school games in search of talent for the school’s soccer team.

“You try and sell them on the program and on our school,” Diaz said. “This is the place they’re going to be to help them transition to their ultimate destination before a four-year school.”

Diaz still takes on club teams and is currently the head coach for Total Futbol Academy, an all-boys team located in East LA.

“Right now I currently have the number one team in the nation for 2006, meaning that [the players] are kids that were born in 2006,” Diaz said. “Then I have the best 2005 age bracket; they’re in the top five in the nation. And I have one of the best 2004 teams.”

Soccer has taken Diaz around the world to countries like France, Italy and Spain. He will be taking his club teams to Barcelona this March to compete in a tournament called the MIC Cup.

“Soccer has taken me everywhere, and it’s a beautiful journey,” Diaz said. “I was lucky that my parents allowed me to play and do the things that I did.”

Diaz is now a parent to Brooklyn Di Matteo Diaz, who will be four this November. His son is already kicking the ball around, but Diaz said he doesn’t plan to force soccer on his son like it was forced on him.

Diaz managed to use soccer as a way out of the rough neighborhood he grew up in. When he was settled enough in the San Fernando Valley, he brought his younger brother who was still in high school to live with him.

“When I was a senior in college my brother would live with me, I’d take him to school, pick him up and go to work,” Diaz remembers. “There are always struggles. There are trials and tribulations in every journey, but mine were a little different from normal people’s.”

Growing up where Diaz did was sometimes life-threatening because of the criminal activity in South Central at the time.

“There are a lot of shootings at night. There is a lot of gang activity in your neighborhoods when you’re living in that world,” Diaz said. “Sports got me out of trouble and got me to stay away from trouble. I’ve encountered a lot in my lifetime.”

Soccer has taken over Diaz’s life and he has no complaints. It’s what he knows and what he’s always loved.

“I have a lot of passion for the game,” Diaz said. “It’s something that runs through my veins and something that has been passed down. It was my destiny, and I’m just happy to be going through the journey of my soccer life.”