News about a proposal to build a major league soccer training and development facility in Garden City created a buzz over the weekend, especially among soccer coaches and players.
“I think it would be fantastic,” Charles Long, Garden City Community College head soccer coach, said. “I think there’s enough variety of people and numbers here that love the sport. If you look at the Rec center and YMCA, how packed they are with players and the number of kids playing ... I think the market will definitely support it.”
It was revealed late Friday that Sporting Kansas City, the major league professional soccer team in Kansas City, is interested in developing a soccer training and development center here. The project is in the conceptual stage at the moment, but is one that seeks to use the state’s STAR bond tool to help finance a portion of the project cost. The Garden City Commission has scheduled a 1:30 p.m. hearing on Tuesday about creating the district on the east side of town.
The approval process for using Star Bonds is intensive and could take as long as two years. But many found even the possibility of a state-of-the-art soccer facility exciting.
On Sunday, local high school players and members of the GC Manchester youth soccer club took some time before indoor soccer games at the Garden City Recreation Center to talk about the proposal.
Erik Barragan, David Amaro, Gilberto Tovar, and Kevin Martinez have been playing soccer together since they were 4 or 5 years old. Like some kids a generation or two ago might have known every player on their favorite Major League baseball time, the young men are very familiar with Sporting Kansas City, and are excited about the possibilities.
Barragan, 17, who earned first team All State Class 6A honors from the Kansas Soccer Coaches Association following his senior season this fall at Garden City High School, thinks it will be a good experience for youth soccer.
“It’s something we’ve been that we’ve been looking for for a long time, especially out here. There’s really not much out here. We’ve all been trying to get into academies and the closest is like Kansas City or Colorado,” Barragan said.
Amaro, 18, said it would be a great opportunity for the community, and for those who are really into soccer.
“And I think it’s just going to get the community more into soccer, too,” he said. “I think it’s a great way for kids to try out a new sport, and this will help them get better.”
According to information giving to the city, the project’s concept includes:
• Design and development of a training center complete with classrooms, locker rooms, fitness and conditioning equipment and likely a dormitory to house players from outside the area.
• Construction of a number of high performance grass and synthetic soccer fields next to the training center, including a “championship field” stadium with stadium amenities consistent with similarly designed stadiums.
• Acquisition of Premier Development League (PDL) franchise to play their matches at the championship field stadium, likely owned and operated by a local Garden City investor and fully supported by Sporting.
• Creation of a well-organized, professional youth soccer club for boys and girls aged 5 to 18 who will be granted immediate Sporting Academy affiliate status (“Sporting Garden City”).
• Centralized administration of club resources, including finance, legal (including immigration, player contracts, and collegiate eligibility issues), and travel.
Tovar, 17, was a little stunned by the news.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “We’ve been to MLS tryouts, we’ve been to PDL teams, and we’re not made out of money to go traveling, so with something like this maybe coming to our hometown it just gives another opportunity.”
Amaro believes a training facility here would put local youth teams on the same footing as teams from Topeka or Kansas City, who right now have better facilities.
“We’ll be able to keep up,” Amaro said.
Tovar noted that while Garden City doesn’t have the equipment or fields some other teams have, Garden City still competes well against those teams.
“I feel if we get things that they have now, it’s going to boost us up more,” he said.
Kevin Martinez said a lot of kids start out just kicking the ball around. The idea of getting major facilities and equipment just raises the stakes in his mind.
“It could make even greater players. I really feel like if they have these facilities, more trainers, more people are going to come and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got some skill.’ I’ve really been waiting for something like that,” he said.
Tovar and Amaro said interest in soccer continues to grow. Four years ago when they were freshmen they saw few in the stands for their games, but this past season attendance was good.
“And younger kids, I feel like they’ll have some role models,” Tovar said.
As a kid, Tovar looked up to some of the recreation league players, but they never had the chance to move up in competition. The proposed affiliation with Sporting Kansas City could provide more role models for youth, he said.
Soccer has long been a favorite for world fans, but the U.S. has lagged behind. However, interest in soccer is growing in the country.
In Garden City, the college has a women’s soccer program and just this fall announced it is restarting a men’s soccer program in 2015. Coach Long expects to have about 15 players in the spring to train.
A major soccer facility here will have a tremendous impact on youth soccer, and could also benefit the college program, Long said.
Players who finish college here could have a chance to improve and move on to four-year university programs or play in a farm league for Kansas City, proving good preparation and possible talent for the major league club.
“It will help increase fans, also. The more local players we get to stay (will help), and it might help some of the better players stay,” Long said. “I think it’s a positive, a win-win for everybody. Soccer’s growing, which is good.”
Hector Martinez, former GCCC women’s soccer interim head coach who now coaches GC Manchester, is also excited about the news, and said it could provide good exposure for local talent.
“Building a facility like that in southwest Kansas will definitely be a plus for those kids,” Martinez said. “I think it’s a win for everybody. The community, the kids and everybody.”
Comments on the Telegram’s Facebook page indicated a lot of support for the proposed project in the community.
Jackelin Gonne said it would be great for youth, and also provide an opportunity for local soccer players to have their talent noticed.
“I think it’s awesome. Let it grow, let it grow,” Roger Redden said.
Judy Espino Fierro said her son has played soccer since he was three years old and really loves it.
“There are a lot of kids in our community that enjoy the sport and would really benefit from it and enjoy it,” Fierro said.
Sandy Godinez-Hernandez said the facility would be an excellent opportunity for youth who enjoy soccer.
My family is very excited,” she said.