For Cosmos’ Guerra, Fútbol and Football American Style

Juan Guerra

By JACK BELL

Cosmos logoThe New York Cosmos have a midfielder — Juan Guerra — who is comfortable on the large expanse of a soccer field or the 100-yard gridiron of American football.

When Guerra, who was born and spent his early years in Venezuela, moved with his family to South Florida he did not speak English and had a scant inking of a game that is a quasi-religion throughout the southern United States.

“The only thing I had seen was the Super Bowl when I lived in Venezuela,” Guerra, 30, said.

Fast forward to last year when Guerra was playing in the North American Soccer League for the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The team was in Canada’s capital city for a match against the Ottawa Fury.

“We were training on the football field [at TD Place] and before we started there were some kickers [for the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa Rough Riders] stretching and kicking,” Guerra said. “I asked to hit one.

“So they snapped it, put it down and I nailed it. The guy was like ‘get outta here before our coach sees you, I want to keep my job.’ It had been a while since I kicked a football and I didn’t think I’d be able to hit it.”

These days in the NFL and CFL, soccer-style kickers rule the specialized profession. A few years ago, the former MetroStars and United States national team goalkeeper Tony Meola tried out for the New York Jets. Guerra never dipped his toe into professional football, though his place-kicking and punting odyssey began while he was a student at G. Holmes Braddock High School in Miami.

“My counselor was also the football coach, he knew I was a soccer player,” Guerra said. “In my sophomore year he called me and asked if I’d be interested in kicking for the football team. The JV needed a kicker. I showed up to practice and started kicking. It seemed easy. The next day he moved me to the varsity.”

Guerra admits he was the proverbial fish out of water. He was fitted for a full uniform — pads, pants, helmet — and tried to blend in. Playing for one of the powerhouse high school teams in the area, Guerra said he did not have many opportunities to kick field goals. Extra points were another story. There was also the small matter of learning when it was his time to trot onto the field.

April 29, 2017; Alameda, CA, USA; Alameda Attack B12Br lacrosse vs. Fremont Spartans B12Br. Photo: Robert Edwards-Robtography.

Midfielder Juan Guerra, right, and his former Tampa Bay teammate Tommy Heinemann. Photograph by New York Cosmos

“You know, in soccer if you’re a substitute you have to wait to go onto the field,” he said. “So I’m standing there and everyone is running on the field and I’m waiting for permission. They were all screaming at me. I didn’t know what to do. I was nervous and didn’t know what was happening. But I made the field goal.”

His coach, Franklin Rojas, clearly thought his soccer guy in pads who was nailing 35- and 40-yard fields goals and who never missed an extra point could move on to a big-time college program. Rojas had his video crew document Guerra’s prowess during practice, then sent along the video up the football food chain. Guerra was offered full scholarships to North Carolina State and the University of Florida, but instead chose to concentrate on his first love — soccer — at Florida International University.

“I really loved the football environment, I love the way everybody on the team is so committed to their role, even guys who are only on the field for 10 seconds,” he said. “Everyone on the team is so important and believes that their role can help to decide a game. In soccer guys play for 90 minutes, there are three subs, and that’s it. For a football team to be successful everyone has to pay attention to the little things. But I wasn’t tempted to do it in college. I like being on the field for 90 minutes, not just one and off.”

In addition to kicking field goals and extra points in high school, Guerra kicked off (he said all his kicks carried into the end zone for touchbacks) and grudgingly handled the punting duties.

“Three times I had to try and make a tackle and twice it ended up as a touchdown. After that game I said I need to get involved in some hitting drills. The guys running at me were faster and stronger.”

At FIU, Guerra said the football coach asked him to do dual duty for the soccer and football teams. Guerra declined.

“I enjoy what I’m doing now,” he said. “I love playing soccer. I’ve done it all my life and don’t see myself doing anything else.”