Is soccer at a Crossroads? (Video)
June 28, 2012 at 1:28 a.m.
Updated June 29, 2012 at 1:29 a.m.
The Valadez brothers talk about their experience with soccer in Victoria and how they think the sport might grow in the next couple of years.
The growing interest in soccer isn't solely reserved for playing.
Earlier this week, ESPN announced its viewership numbers for the UEFA European Football Championship is exponentially larger - 63 percent for the first round, 31 percent for the quarterfinals - than when the tournament was last held in 2008.
A breakdown for the rating and viewership numbers in the Victoria market, one of the smallest Nielsen markets, were not available.
In November, ESPN and other outlets reported Major League Soccer (17,872) had a higher average attendance for the 2011 season than the National Hockey League (17,132) and National Basketball Association (17,323). Through June 27 the league averaged 18,621 fans per home date.
Closer to home, the Dynamo are fourth in MLS when it comes to average home attendance this season, as 21,982 have entered BBVA Compass Stadium through five home dates.
"I think Texas is a good place for young soccer players to come up and be professionals," said Houston Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear following a June 16 win over FC Dallas. "If people want to come, watch the game live, or turn on the television and it inspires them to get out there for half and hour and play the game, then its wonderful."
Soccer may not ever be the sport for everyone. After all, this is Texas and football is the clear king.
Slowly but surely, the world's game is making inroads in the Crossroads. Whether it's the youth, varsity or collegiate levels the Victoria area has seen development in the sport in recent years.
"The growth I have seen since I was in high school, until now, is unbelievable," said former Victoria West assistant girls soccer coach Michelle Stanford. "When we were in high school, we weren't allowed to play in Memorial Stadium because we might mess up the football grass."
Stanford has seen soccer from so many levels over the last two decades. This does not include the Victoria Independent School District allowing its schools to play varsity soccer on the now synthetic turf at Memorial Stadium.
Stanford played soccer for Victoria High in the early 90s. She has been a high school coach at West and previously Victoria Memorial. Both her sons also play soccer, including oldest son, Trystan, who started playing before his third birthday because Stanford was his coach.
"We have the seeds planted with coach (Adrian) Rigby being here at (the University of Houston-Victoria)," Stanford said. "He's developing players from right here in the Crossroads-area. He even has some international players. When he experiences success, or one of our homegrown players, if they go farther, then we will see even more growth."
This fall, Rigby will enter his third year as the men's and women's soccer coach at UHV. His program has players from all three Victoria high schools, players from across South Texas as well as some from England, Australia and Uruguay.
Jaguars forward Adrian Mendoza said everyone in the men's team has the capability of playing professionally. The rising sophomore from Houston was the top scorer for Rigby's men's team last year with 15 goals in 17 games.
In his soccer safari across Texas from Houston, to a member of the Houston Dynamo academy team, to UHV and now the Valley, Mendoza observed the Crossroads is not as interested in the sport as other communities. But, he is optimistic that can change.
"People didn't really see soccer in Victoria," Mendoza said. "Hopefully, we can get more support next year. If we got more support, it would encourage us to do well. We're not only representing our school, but we're representing Victoria as well."
Spreading the Word
Mendoza is spending the summer playing on an Under-20 affiliate of the RGV Grandes in McAllen to remain in shape for the Jaguars' 2012 season. A year ago the UHV men's team was 8-0-1 on the field, but struggled to attract more than 200 people to games.
One thing Stanford and Mendoza mentioned might hinder soccer in the Crossroads is a lack of communication about news and other events.
Stanford cited the Victoria Youth Soccer Organization's involvement in bringing in coaches from England, Wales and Brazil to conduct clinics this summer. Mendoza said the more people would attend UHV games if they knew about them.
Mendoza may have a point considering the Crossroads also features an eight-team adult soccer league with teams in Refugio, Yoakum, Cuero, Port Lavaca and Victoria. Though game times are circulated largely by word of mouth they can attract as many as 150 to 200 people for a match.
Build it and they might come
Mendoza said he would love to see a soccer-specific facility here in Victoria that could be utilized by UHV, as well as others.
Watching the Dynamo open BBVA Compass Stadium last month gave him encouragement that Victoria could perhaps cull together enough community support to have a facility of its own - albeit on a far smaller scale.
In February, the city of Victoria adopted it Parks 2025 Master Plan, where it outlined renovations and park acquisitions over the next decade. In March, the Advocate reported the master plan's 30 projects total $13.82 million, which are expected to be funded through the general and utility funds, sales tax, donations, user fees, bonds and grants.
Providing youth soccer fields at the Victoria Community Center, at an estimated cost of $1million, was the 16th-rated priority behind baseball fields, disc golf areas, equestrian facilities and practice fields.
(Disclosure: Will Brown is a member of one of the Victoria-based teams in the men's soccer league.)
Victoria might be the capital of the Crossroads, but the city's population still pales in comparison to the metropolitan and suburban areas of the state. That may be why soccer has not blossomed here, as in other parts of the state.
Tom Morrow, executive director of the South Texas Youth Soccer Association, said location, demographics, distance and cost are critical factors in the sports development. He added its more important to be where the potential players are, as opposed to what specific organizations are doing to attract players.
The Victoria Youth Soccer Organization is among the smallest member organizations in the STYA umbrella with approximately 700 members.
"A lot of it has to do with changing demographics. We have a club that five years ago, seven years ago, 10 years ago was a premier club in the greater Houston area," Morrow said. . "The neighborhood that serviced the club is an older neighborhood and they don't serve as many kids. That club is struggling to field teams and attract players simply because of where they are located."
Morrow said another challenge in soccer's grassroots development is retaining interest in athletes once they get to middle and high school. At those ages children have more sporting and extra-curricular choices. Though there has been a lot of discussion and debate, he added there is not a single way to retain interest.
Sticking with soccer
Houston Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell said as soccer becomes more established, whether in South Texas or elsewhere, it will have an impact on the development of the sport. Boswell, an Austin native who great up near Tampa Bay, Fla., believes younger athletes were steered toward other sports where there might be more opportunities beyond the varsity level.
"I don't think its every going to diminish, it's going to get better," Boswell said. "Having stadiums to play in and having good contracts it's going to cause kids that are growing up, are great athletes to have a choice in what they want to play."
"I don't think there are going to be pushed away from soccer. If they want to play it they are going to continue to play it because there is a future in the game for them."
This might be the case for Trystan Stanford. His mother, the former West soccer coach, said he aspires to become a professional soccer player.
"Trystan happens to be a very blessed athlete," Michelle Stanford said. "He's good at everything he tries, but soccer is his favorite."
To facilitate that love for soccer Stanford, or husband Kelly, would commute to Sugar Land the last two years to play for Eclipse Soccer Club in Sugar Land. But with Trystan entering seventh grade this fall, and wanting to play football and basketball, he will play at a Victoria-based club-at least until high school.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, Texas had more than 27,000 varsity soccer players in the 2010-11 academic year, which ranked third behind California and New York.
Bay City native Alex Dixon said soccer was always the third, fourth or fifth sport while growing up in South Texas.
The Dynamo midfielder moved to Humble when he was young. However, 22-year old winger mentioned having the franchise move to Houston in December 2005, winning consecutive championships in 2006 and 2007 as well as a new stadium means things are looking up for soccer in South Texas.
"The more exposure it gets, the more kids will get interested in it," Dixon said. "I think this rivalry is great. Obviously, that we won helps out a lot. Everyone loves a winner. As long as we keep doing well, (soccer) will keep growing."
Success starts at home
While the local varsity soccer programs have yet to win as frequently as the Dynamo, they might be on the cusp of bigger things.
This spring Victoria East made the deepest playoff run of any VISD school in more than a decade when it advanced four rounds in the boys playoffs. The school's girls program has a host of rising sophomores and juniors that led the Titans to the playoffs for the first time in school history.
Across town, Stanford coached a phenom in rising sophomore Anhila Rocha, who scored a hat trick in her varsity game last winter.
In the aftermath of most major soccer tournaments, the questions arise whether the world's game has entered the American sporting mainstream. The answers have varied, but there is at least one person who believes those constant spikes in interest have trickled down to the Crossroads.
"There was growth last summer after the (U.S.) women's team did so well," Stanford said referencing the 2011 Women's World Cup.
"Two years ago there was growth when the men's team did so well. I think it started when David Beckham game to the U.S. That brought more interest and more growth than I've seen in a long time."