July 28, 2005
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On the cover: Photo by Luke
PLAYERS, FANS, FAMILIES AND FORTUNA FUTBOL CULTURE
North Coast Soccer
League Game Schedule
IT'S A SUNNY SUNDAY
AFTERNOON AT Fortuna's Newberg Park, and the parking lot is packed.
Mariachi music seeps out of open truck windows. Schoolboys sporting
their fathers' uniforms chase each other around the field on
scooters, laughing as they scamper up trees in their little cleats.
Players take shots on goal or practice crosses and diving headers
while the referees check the teams' equipment. The goalkeeper
straps on his gloves and pours some water on his palms to give
them that extra stick. The captain corrals his teammates to deliver
some last-minute instructions before kickoff.
The first match up of the day
is between Hidalgo, in blue, and La Costa, in red. Within two
minutes of the opening whistle, La Costa has jumped out to a
two-goal lead, both hustle plays that barely squeak by the keeper.
It looks like it's going to be a blowout. But Hidalgo responds
almost immediately with a couple goals of its own, one a chip
over the keeper and the other an expertly placed blast into the
side netting. After 15 minutes, the score is tied 3-3, much to
the elation of the growing crowd of spectators.
This flurry of goals
is not representative of a typical soccer game, but this is not
a typical soccer league. On the surface, the North Coast Soccer
League may seem like just another recreational community league.
While it is far from "recreational," it is very much
a community league. Eleven teams play three games on Sunday afternoons
(and one on Saturday) and always draw a crowd. Many in the largely
Hispanic crowd are members of the players' families: wives, children,
uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents. But many of the fans are
just soccer lovers, out to enjoy an afternoon of high-quality
The demographic makeup of the
fans mimics the makeup of the NCSL. The local soccer crowd affectionately
refers to the league as the "Mexican League," and aptly
so. League commissioner Arnulfo Aguirre estimates that around
90 percent of the players are Hispanic.
It is no coincidence that Fortuna
produces such a rabid fan base. According to the 2000 census,
11 percent of Fortuna residents are Hispanic,
the largest concentration of Hispanics in Humboldt County. A
love of soccer, it seems, is embedded within the culture.
* * *
A player hits the ground
hard and rolls around after a questionable slide tackle.
one enlivened fan, begging the referee to caution the offending
player with a yellow card.
another fan yells, trying to get his team to take advantage of
a quick scoring opportunity.
Three pretty women stand near
one of the corner flags. One is pushing a stroller holding her
3-year-old daughter. They are lifelong residents of Fortuna and
come out here every week. They have been coming since they were
"This is how we met our
husbands," Josefina Aguirre laughs, referring to their younger
days when they would come to the park to watch games.
"Soccer is like
the center of our lives," says Becky Sánchez. "Our
husbands are always playing, practicing, watching ... "
She stops and turns to her friend,
"Did you see Mexico play
Guatemala this morning? Mexico won 4-0," she reports happily.
"I felt kinda bad for Guatemala, though."
When one thinks of American
sports and sports fans, soccer is certainly not the first thing
that comes to mind. Some are willfully ignorant of the game;
others vociferously loathe it. Sports pundits, such as "shock
jock" Jim Rome, never miss a chance to express their contempt
for the game. Soccer is boring; soccer is slow; there's not enough
scoring -- all common arguments against the sport. During the
United States' bid for the World Cup in 1986, former vice-presidential
candidate (and Buffalo Bills quarterback) Jack Kemp went so far
as to call soccer a "European socialist sport."
But this disdainful attitude
toward soccer seems fairly unique to American culture. To call
the world's view of soccer a bit more accepting is a considerable
understatement. As Franklin Foer writes in the prologue of his
book, How Soccer Explains the World, "[Soccer] is
often more deeply felt than religion, and is just as much a part
of the community's fabric, a repository of traditions."
While Americans are inarguably warming up to the world's most
popular sport, the country is generations behind.
* * *
Humboldt County used to be just
as uninterested in soccer as the rest of the country. When Floyd
Da Massa moved to Humboldt from the town of Lucca in Tuscany,
Italy, in 1955, there were no games to be found.
"I grew up playing for
fun on the streets all the time," he said. "When I
got here, there was nothing."
As he settled in to his adopted
homeland, he found groups of other immigrants who liked to kick
the ball around. Portuguese, Hungarians, Germans and Brazilians
all found camaraderie playing soccer together. In the late 1960s
they formed what came to be known as the Arcata Soccer Club.
They would practice and scrimmage with each other. Once a year,
they would travel to San Jose, where the Portuguese community
held a tournament. Otherwise, the Arcata Soccer Club was pretty
Alan Exley [photo at right],
who coached soccer at Humboldt State for 20 years until he retired
in 2003, came to Humboldt from England around the time the Arcata
Soccer Club was getting started. He recalls the days when foreign
freight ships, coming to Humboldt Bay to pick up lumber exports,
would dock for a few days. A member of the club would contact
the harbor pilot to see if the crew wanted to form a team and
have a match. They were often more than eager.
"We played teams from all
over the place," said Exley. "Norwegians, Vietnamese
... they usually jumped at the opportunity to get off the freighter
and run around for a while. After the games we would invite them
to dine with us at the Portuguese Community Center."
"That's the beauty of soccer,"
he added. "It brings all cultures together."
Da Massa, who served as the
president of the Arcata Soccer Club for years, said that after
a while the club split into two teams: a predominately Mexican
team and a "library team," a group that had read a
lot about soccer but hadn't played much. As more people became
interested through the 1970s, the club morphed into the Humboldt
Soccer League [see photo
below left], consisting of about 10
teams. The Portuguese broke off into their own team and there
were two Laotian teams. Da Massa and friends formed Redwood United,
a team made up of many different people, including Exley and
a number of other former HSU players.
"We would go to tournaments
all over Northern California, even Southern Oregon," he
said. "It was a lot of fun."
Coast Soccer League got its start in Fortuna in the 1980s when
it was called the Redwood Soccer League (the name was changed
eight years ago). The league has always featured mostly Hispanic
players and has steadily come to be known as the most competitive
league in the county.
This year is the first year
the league has been sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation,
an umbrella organization for all competitive and recreational
soccer in the country. The USSF creates a standard to which all
affiliated leagues and referees adhere. Affiliation also provides
players and officials with insurance in the case of injury.
Now that the league is sanctioned
by the USSF, the two best teams will be invited to the Polo Fields
in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco to play in a tournament
featuring teams from all over Northern California in September.
Some of those games will be broadcast on Comcast, the country's
biggest cable television corporation.
"It's a good way to get
our younger players some more exposure," said league commissioner
* * *
Four-time league champions, DVO Union. Back row L-R: DVO Union's
No. 1 fan, Elfrego Maldonado,
name unknown, Juan Patino (asst. coach), Antonio Cordoro (goalie),
Filiberto Muñoz, Atenojenes Zamora,
Carlos Dias, Rosendo Villabraso. Front row: Martin Maciel, Juan
Muñoz, Rafael Hoyos (team captain), Alfredo Muñoz.
The 4 o'clock game has just
wrapped up. DVO Union continued its unbeaten streak with a 3-0
shutout over El Buen Gusto. (The DVO stands for "deportivo,"
the Spanish word for "Sports Club.")
Francisco Martínez of The Panthers
[photo at right] is strapping on his shin guards getting ready for
the final game of the afternoon. His team will match up against
Martínez has just graduated
from Eureka High, where he played on the varsity team for two
years. He has been playing soccer since before he can remember.
"It was part of our family
heritage," he said. "We were all raised to love soccer."
Martínez was born in
Guadalajara, Mexico, and moved to Humboldt when he was 4. At
18, he is the youngest of three brothers, all of whom play soccer
as well. This is Francisco's second year in the NCSL.
He recalls the first game of
the season when the coach put him at the striker position. He
normally anchors his team's defense at sweeper, but down 2-1
in the second half, his team needed an extra spark on offense.
Toward the end of the game, a teammate crossed him the ball in
front of the goal. He tapped the ball over one defender with
his head, chipped it over another with his right foot, and blasted
it past the keeper with his left foot off a volley to tie the
game at two.
"It was my favorite all-time
goal," he beamed.
Gabriel Herrera [photo at left] watches
Francisco intently. When DVO Aztecas matches up against the Panthers,
Herrera at striker will go head to head with Martínez
at sweeper. Whoever wins the battle between those two will likely
be on the winning team.
Herrera and Martínez
were teammates on the Eureka High varsity team, and like his
former teammate, Gabriel graduated this year. This is the 17-year-old's
third year in the NCSL.
Herrera is a speedy forward
with an uncanny ability to finish. Leading the league with 10
goals already this year, he is making a serious push at winning
the scoring title, which is given to the league's most prolific
goal scorer at season's end.
"I am starting to understand
more how to play against these players," he said modestly.
Herrera's mother and father
come from Guadalajara and Zacatecas, respectively, but he has
lived in Eureka since he was born. He has a younger sister who
also plays soccer and both his parents play in the coed Humboldt
Soccer League. He says that he has played soccer his whole life.
"It was ingrained in us,"
Herrera generally plays year
round -- in the spring he plays for Humboldt Steelhead, a Class
1 team that travels around Northern California. But next near
he will be attending UC Davis to study political science on his
way to law school. He plans to take this year off of soccer,
one of the first years of his life he won't be playing.
"It will be hard,"
he said. "But I'll continue training and play intramurals
and try out next year."
Martínez, who has been
contacted by the coach at CSU Stanislaus to play down there,
laments the fact that soccer is not as big or as competitive
in Humboldt as it is in places like the Bay Area and Sacramento.
But he admits that the fervency shown in the Fortuna community
for soccer is a step in the right direction.
"We're getting there,"
"Soccer in Humboldt is
starting to pick up," Herrera agreed. "We're starting
to get a lot more level with players down south."
* * *
Immigrants in Humboldt County
have clearly played a crucial role in bringing the world's most
popular game to one of the state's most remote areas. The players
themselves are obviously a significant factor, but the burgeoning
soccer culture would not be nearly as rich without the community's
"It's pretty incredible
to have this level of community involvement with soccer in a
county as isolated as Humboldt," said Arron Apperson, referee
coordinator for the NCSL.
A number of teams in the NCSL
are sponsored by local businesses. El Buen Gusto Market in Eureka
and La Playita in Fortuna both sponsor teams. Businesses that
sponsor teams generally pay for uniforms and sometimes player
Sun Valley Floral Farms has
sponsored teams for "six or seven years," according
to Lane DeVries, president and chief executive officer of The
Sun Valley Group. DeVries estimates that approximately 85 percent
of Sun Valley employees are Hispanic. It was originally a group
of employees who approached the company about sponsoring a team.
Ultimately they agreed and have done so ever since.
"It's a great thing for
the community," DeVries said. "We want to do anything
we can to help support this sport, to allow it to happen."
community's support for soccer in Fortuna is very much an expression
of the Hispanic culture represented there. Attending the games
and interacting with the spectators will certainly give one a
flavor of the Hispanic culture. But to get a real (and filling)
taste of the community, one need only locate José Carrillo
in the parking lot behind the eastern goal. [photo at left]
Carrillo wears a bowl cut and
a friendly smile. He has been coming to these games with his
family for three years and sells concessions out of the back
of his red Tacoma. He started selling food after he asked players
if they might benefit from his services.
"After they play they are
very hungry," he said.
He doesn't sell candy bars or
cotton candy -- he sells authentic Mexican snack food. He has
baggies packed with chicharrones, wheel-shaped pork rinds
with the option of dousing them in habañero sauce. He
also sells tostadas and quesadillas. His most popular product
is elote, corn on the cob on a stick, lathered with mayonnaise
and cheese and topped with chili powder sprinkled generously
over the surface.
He comes three or four hours
almost every week, but is hardly concerned with turning a profit.
He is more interested in watching the games and hanging out with
his friends. If he spends $200 on food, he might bring in $250
in an afternoon.
"It's about enough to pay
for gas," he laughs warmly.
* * *
Sitting on the hillside snacking
on elote, Efraín Miranda and Juan Cabrera watch
the final match of the day. Now in their street clothes, the
two athletes are still giddy about their thrilling 5-4 victory
earlier in the day. Their team, Hidalgo, found the back of the
net in the waning moments of injury time to seize their second
win of the season.
"We don't usually score
so many goals," said Miranda, smiling.
On game days, Miranda and Cabrera
usually spend the day at Newberg Park to watch the rest of the
matches with their families.
"It's fun. Lots of our
friends come out," Cabrera said.
It's hardly surprising that
some of the biggest soccer fans are soccer players. But the fan
base is growing larger and more diverse. As new generations are
getting more access and exposure to soccer, the older generations
begin to take notice. As Floyd Da Massa observes, many people
start getting into soccer because their kids are involved.
"They enjoy the game so
much as spectators, they go and get involved in adult leagues,"
The North Coast Soccer League
offers a small glimpse into the passion with which most of the
rest of the world experiences soccer. The games are a treat for
pure fans of the sport: The players play with a passionate and
unmasked joy, and the fans might as well be at a World Cup final
As Arron Apperson says, "It's
a wonderful way to experience the culture of soccer."
Luke T. Johnson is a freelance
writer (and part-time soccer referee) who lives in Arcata. This
fall, he will begin graduate studies in journalism at the University
of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Coast Soccer League Game Schedule
Only a third of the regular
season remains, but there's still plenty of opportunities to
catch North Coast Soccer League action. Unless otherwise noted,
matches take place at Newburg Park in Fortuna, 1201 Newburg Rd.
Arcata matches take place at the fields next to the Arcata Community
Center, 321 Community Park Way.
The Panthers vs. DVO Union, 6 p.m.
Hidalgo vs. DVO Aztecas, 2 p.m.
DVO Alexander vs. Gar.Sottum FC, 4 p.m.
Tiburones Eureka vs. La Playita, 6 p.m.
Sun Valley vs. El Buen Gusto, 6 p.m. (Arcata)
Buen Gusto vs. Panthers, 6 p.m.
Tiburones vs. Alexander, 2 p.m.
Costa vs. Aztecas, 4 p.m.
Hidalgo vs. Playita, 6 p.m.
Sun Valley vs. Union, 6 p.m. (Arcata)
Union vs. Panthers, 6 p.m.
Tiburones vs. Hidalgo, 2 p.m.
Costa vs. Buen Gusto, 4 p.m.
Alexander vs. Playita, 6 p.m.
Sun Valley vs. Gar.Sottum, 6 p.m. (Arcata)
Panthers vs. Tiburones, 4 p.m.
Union vs. Alexander, 6 p.m.
Buen Gusto vs. Gar.Sottum, 2 p.m.
Costa vs. Sun Valley, 4 p.m.
Playita vs. Aztecas, 6 p.m.
The top eight teams from the regular season
meet at Newburg Park (1201 Newburg Rd., Fortuna)
Saturday, Aug. 27 at
6 p.m. and
Sunday, Aug. 28 at 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
The final four play at Newburg
Park at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Championship tournament at Newburg
Park. Semi-finals at 4 p.m., finals at 6 p.m.
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