The newest faces of professional sports in the Coastal Bend are fresh faces indeed. Several local players on the city’s new minor league soccer team are still in high school, yet their experience with the sport makes them more like veterans of the game.
Corpus Christi FC is the newest addition to the Premier Development League, which is part of the United Soccer League.
“The USL is the largest professional league in the U.S.,” explains Corpus Christi FC Sharks head coach Sammy Giraldo. “And anybody who follows soccer understands that it’s basically the second tier, second division, right under MLS (Major League Soccer).”
17-year-old Karlo Lopez is the youngest member of the Sharks. He is also a student-athlete at Veterans Memorial High School. When asked about his reaction to making the Sharks’ roster, he said, “That put a smile on my face. That’s all I can say.”
Lopez also stresses the amount of time and dedication it took for him to get to this point. He recalled, “I’ve worked every single day for three years — 2 hours in my backyard every single day with my dad or my brother, going one-on-one against him. So, it just takes a lot to get here.”
Though Lopez’s background is different from his new teammates, there is something they share in common. Many of them have also been playing soccer since a very young age. Cesar Garcia, also 17, picked up the sport when he was six years old. Meanwhile, 18-year-old Seth Korenek started playing soccer at the age of four.
Compare that to other sports, and Giraldo says it’s one of the most distinctive things about soccer.
“It’s one of those sports where you really have to have very early exposure to it in order to develop the skills and basically the understanding of decision-making to be successful long-term,” Giraldo explains.
After training with Sammy Giraldo and his brother, Sebastian Giraldo, for six years, Garcia has long-term success on his mind. But when he moved to the U.S. from Mexico, he wondered if there was enthusiasm for the sport.
“Because I would always hear about football. I was like, ‘Does soccer exist here?'” Garcia remembers. He soon found out that it did, and he was able to pursue his dream and revive a family tradition.
“My dad was pretty good, but a lot of stuff happened in his life, so he had to stop playing soccer and support his family,” Garcia said. “I’m dedicated to my goals in life, which are to be a good person and a good soccer player.”
Meantime, Korenek, who’s part of a military family, moved to Corpus Christi six years ago.
“I’ve played in Virginia, all across the U.S. I even played in Japan,” he says. “All of those experiences really kind of helped formulate my skill set as a soccer player.”
Now, these players have an opportunity that Sammy Giraldo says no other soccer athletes have had in Corpus Christi.
“What has never existed is that connection from the youth level to the professional, and that’s what we call the pathway in my profession. The pathway is basically — can we continue to offer levels with professional level training that allow players to not only have opportunities but develop the skills and understanding of what it eventually takes to get to the professional levels of the game.”
With several local players now on the pathway, Giraldo hopes to start a trend. He explains, “Once people start seeing them, those next generations have somebody directly to link up to and say, ‘Hey, this is a Corpus player. Look at what he did. Let me follow in his footsteps.'”
In the meantime, the players are hopeful the city will embrace Corpus Christi FC, and come out to cheer for the Sharks.
Korenek says, “I’m really excited just for the people of Corpus Christi to have a team to rally around. And I’m hoping that in that first exhibition game, we can pack the stadium as much as possible and get some chants going out there and just really have an awesome home crowd.”
“I think a lot of people are starting to realize how big this is,” Lopez adds. “And I think a lot of people are going to start showing up to our games .. just because how involved people in Corpus are starting to get into soccer.”
Corpus Christi FC’s first exhibition game will be on April 21 at the Dr. Jack Dugan Soccer Stadium at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. You can purchase tickets and check out other information about the team by clicking bellow
Culled from KRISTV.com By Nikela Pradier