11:05 AM

Former South Omaha Star Leads Bruin Soccer Squad

Former South Omaha Star Leads Bruin Soccer Squad

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

Manuel Lira experienced a matrix moment on the soccer field earlier this year.

Lira2014_WC5884The game slowed down for him as he picked out teammate Rob Smith with a perfect pass for the game-winning goal in a 2-1 overtime victory against Westminster (Utah).

“I brought down a ball and in the moment before the pass I literally talked to myself -- last year or even six months ago I would have just brought that ball down and tried to take it on my own,” he said. “I’ve improved my decision making. It was at that moment that I thought to myself I would not have done this a few years ago.”

Lira came to Bellevue University after a standout prep career at South High School in Omaha. That translated to part-time starter status as a freshman and sophomore at Bellevue. Lira enjoyed a breakout season as a junior in the 2013 season. He scored eight goals and recorded five assists en route to a first team spot on the all-Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference squad.

He hasn’t missed a beat this season with eight goals and six assists through 17 matches. The Bruins are off to a 14-2-1 record in that same span.

“He’s exciting to watch because when he picks the ball up good things happen. He causes issues and everyone is worried about him defensively,” said Bruin Head Coach Matt Briggs. “He’s refined his technique a lot and really improved his decision making. You just let him express himself on the pitch and he’ll do good things for you.”

As a midfielder, Lira helps blend an eclectic group of players from all over the world into a futbol force. Lira himself originally hails from Guadalajara, Mexico. The team also features players from England, Scotland, Germany, and Columbia as well as players from the local area. So is communication difficult?

“Maybe at the beginning,” Lira said. “When some of the new guys come in and their accent is really strong – you can’t understand what they’re saying, but we spend so much time together it becomes understandable. We all bring different styles and different things we can learn from one another. That makes us even stronger as a team. The chemistry just develops as the year goes by.”

LiraManuel_2014Lira has a lot to juggle off the field. He’s majoring in Business Administration and hopes to graduate next summer. He’s the first to admit that school has not always been easy.

“It has been a major challenge for me,” he said. “Even though (the professors) are always hard on me, that teaches me more about life. I don’t want somebody doing half their job and not be on my case about turning in an assignment. It has helped me develop as a student.”

In addition to soccer and school, Lira also squeezes in time to work as a waiter at La Mesa, the Mexican restaurant located at 1405 Fort Crook Road in Bellevue, and handle family responsibilities.

“He’s wearing many hats,” Briggs said. “It’s so impressive that he’s able to be at school and be an athlete and carry on with all these other responsibilities.”

Following graduation, Lira has several options mapped out including pursuing his master’s degree and helping out at his father’s business, Deportes La Amistad, located at 4109 South L Street.

However, soccer is still at the top of his list. That means combines after the season trying to catch the eye of professional teams. While Major League Soccer is the top league in the United States, other professional leagues such as the North American Soccer League (distantly related to the NASL that featured players like Pelé and Giorgio Chinaglia in the 1970s), USL Pro, and USL Premier Development League are also options.

“I think he has a chance to go and play,” Briggs said. “If I was a coach at that level I would sign him.”

However, graduation is first and foremost.

“He’s faced many difficulties along the way,” Briggs said. “When we get him to walk for his graduation that will be better than any conference championship we can win. He’s stuck to it and he’s worked hard.”