Soccer community loses a legend

A two-time Olympian and three-time Women’s World Cup soccer star, local youth soccer coach Ouying Zhang died on Dec. 1, 2018, following an eight-month battle with lung cancer. (courtesy photo)

Soccer community loses a legend

Ouying Zhang, affectionately known as “Coach O,” died on Dec. 1, 2018 at the age of 43. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in April of this year while on an annual trip to China. She is survived by her husband Edde and two children, ages 6 and 4.

In addition to being a two-time Olympian and a star player for the Chinese National Team in three successive Women’s World Cups, Coach O had her biggest impact on the local community as a girls soccer coach with the San Diego Soccer Club (SDSC) since 2010.

Raffi Ruotolo is SDSC director of coaching for older girls.

Ouying Zhang (courtesy San Diego Soccer Club)

“It’s a sad day for everyone – the club and all the kids,” he said. “Whoever [had] a chance to be trained and coached by Coach O, it’s a blessing and something they should treasure forever. She was not just a coach; the discipline, humility and everything she brought with her is probably more important and had a bigger impact on these young ladies’ lives than the sport, alone. She was an incredible person.”

Two of Coach O’s former players, Mia Arredondo, a 14-year-old Scripps Ranch resident, and Valeria Suarez, reflected on the impact their coach had on their lives. Arredondo described a moment at the annual SDSC soccer banquet last year when she received the most valuable player award.

“When I got to the stage, I thanked Coach O and she said, ‘don’t thank me; you did this by yourself. I told you I would get you here and look where you are now. This isn’t me, this is you,’” Arredondo recalled. “That was a turning point for me. She made me truly believe in myself.”

Suarez explained that, over time, her bond with Coach O evolved beyond soccer to feeling more like family.

“If I felt insecure about myself on the field, Coach O would always say, ‘you got this. I support you in every choice you make. I believe in you,’” Suarez said. “Since then, I thought of her like a second mom or my best friend.”

Arredondo’s and Suarez’s parents spoke of the legacy that Coach O leaves behind.

“Her legacy is her children and her team,” said Ernesto Arredondo, Mia’s father. “She met these girls as children and now they’re women. It takes a village to raise your children and she had a part in that.”

Originally created as a means to show solidarity and support for her recovery from illness, former players from Coach O’s SDSC soccer teams continue wearing their silicone bracelets to honor their coach following her death. (photo by Cynthia Kurose)

Guillermo Suarez, Valeria’s father, said that Coach O, “had a gift and she wanted to share it with others. That’s what I’d like to see going forward – for those who she impacted to carry on that legacy.”

Viewing will be held Wednesday, Dec. 5, 10 a.m. to noon at El Camino Memorial in Sorrento Valley, 5600 Carroll Canyon Road. A memorial service will be held Saturday, Dec. 8, 10:30 a.m. to noon at San Diego New Life Chinese Church, 3450 Clairemont Drive.

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