George Pastor, who plays for the Salt Lake Sting soccer club, is the team's leading goal-scorer and the second top goal-scorer in the Western Soccer League. After 13 games, he has 10 goals and another six assists. As the season has evolved, and as the Sting prepare for an important Saturday-Monday homestand against Seattle and Portland, Pastor has become Salt Lake's summertime Mailman.
Which is not bad for someone who is supposed to be brooding over being left out of this summer's World Cup.This was the summer the 26-year-old Pastor was supposed to have played for the U.S. National Team in Italia '90. Right about now he was supposed to be recently returned from Rome, telling stories about the crowds in Italy, and the English hooligans, and what a bunch of assassins the Argentinians were.
Last year, Pastor, 26, was considered one of America's bright scoring hopes. After playing in six of the national team's World Cup qualifying
matches, and in most of the nation-vs.-nation practice games, he was something of a mainstay. And when he scored a goal against South Korea, he looked like a cinch World Cup team member.
Every time there was a trip overseas, he'd go to his mailbox and find an airline ticket in it.
Then, when it came time for the last match in qualifying - the pivotal game against Trinidad and Tabago late last year that got the U.S. into this summer's 24-nation World Cup finals in Italy - Pastor went to his mailbox . . . and didn't find a ticket.
"That was their way of telling me I might not be going to the World Cup, either," he says.
When the final U.S. roster was finalized this spring, again, there was no airline ticket.
"To this day, no one's said anything to me, about why I was left off," says Pastor.
Since he had dreamed of playing in the World Cup from the age of seven, the agony wasn't just from not making the team - but from coming so close.
He has had to content himself with playing so well for the first-year Sting that a case could be made that national team coach Bob Gansler might have made a mistake.
Sting Coach Laurie Calloway shakes his head when he talks about Pastor being left off the U.S. team.
"Here's a guy who scored a goal in South Korea, and then he hardly played again. So you wonder about their thinking," says Calloway. "I mean, what's been their No. 1 problem? Haven't they had a hard time scoring goals?"
Pastor says he thinks he didn't do himself any favors last summer when he played for the San Francisco Blackhawks and adopted an uncharacteristic conservative style.
"I played not to get hurt, so I'd be ready for the national team," he says. "I don't know, maybe they (the national team) were watching. What it made me realize is you should never save yourself. Always play all out. Never take anything for granted."
He has applied that philosophy this summer, and has turned into a goal-scoring fool.
"The only thing I can say is I'm persistent," he says. "I try to find opportunities and take them. If the shots go in, fine. If they don't, don't get discouraged. Just keep looking for opportunities."
He did watch the World Cup. On TV.
"I got butterflies just watching," he says. "But I didn't have a hard time watching the matches. I thought it would be harder."
Being the top goal-scorer in Salt Lake City has helped soothe the disappointment; being in contention for the league title has also helped; and then there's the possibility of the next time.
The 1994 World Cup will be in the United States.
"I'll be 30 then, so it's a longshot," Pastor says. "But it is a light at the end of the tunnel, something to keep me inspired, to keep me playing. You never know.
"To tell you the truth," he adds. "I'm still surprised how far things have come the past four years."
When Pastor graduated from the University of California in 1985 he wasn't drafted by any of the professional leagues in America, indoor or outdoor. He paid his own way to tryout camps and turned himself into a self-made pro.
In due time, he attracted the attention of the national team - and came this close to making it all the way to the 1990 World Cup.
"I have no complaints," he says. "I really enjoy playing here in Salt Lake."
It isn't Rome, but the goals are the same size.