The Spirit's Omid Namazi remembers the first time he saw Zak Ibsen. It was the summer of 1994, when both were playing for the Los Angeles Salsa of the outdoor American Professional Soccer League.
"He was the fittest guy I've seen," Namazi said. "Because of his fitness, he could create so much havoc.
"He would do his defensive work, then, when we'd regain possession, he was able to go forward right away, full speed -- without a breather, that's the key -- and create a problem for the other team. Because of his great fitness and speed, he'd create space for himself or someone else."
After watching Ibsen in his first few days of practice with the Spirit, Namazi has seen nothing to change his mind, although he acknowledges that teammate Kevin Sloan also is extremely fit.
"Zak's still the fittest guy I've seen," Namazi said.
Coach Dave MacWilliams regards Ibsen as "a piece of the puzzle." It was 75 percent complete before Ibsen's arrival. Now, with the Oct. 21 opener against the Harrisburg Heat approaching, it is almost done.
The Spirit is trying to trade Jeff Rogers, who was acquired in the National Professional Soccer League expansion draft but was suspended when he refused to report. If the club gets a good player in return, that player could be the final piece.
Ibsen, 23, who has played in 14 games with the U.S. national team, said blithely after signing last Monday that it would take only a few days to adjust from outdoor to indoor soccer, which he never had played.
After practicing with the Spirit at Du Burns Arena last week, Ibsen is ready to amend the statement. It might take more than a few days.
"Two things," Ibsen said. "It's hard to tell how the ball will bounce off the boards. I've got to learn to read that. The other is that shooting off AstroTurf is different than off grass. The ball sits up higher on the carpet and tends to go up when you shoot. Indoors, because the goals are smaller, you've got to keep your shots low."
Said MacWilliams: "He can't pick it all up in two days. He needs to utilize his speed more. When the keeper saves the ball and we have possession, he has a tendency not to break away downfield. I want him to take off right away to make teams worry. He has a nice touch and he's striking the ball well."
When Ibsen signed, MacWilliams noted that he played for UCLA's 1990 NCAA championship team, the U.S. national team and was on the 1992 Olympic team.
"Zak brings a wealth of big-time experience to our club," MacWilliams said. "At the end of this season, he'll be able to say he played for the NPSL champions."