Wednesday afternoon was a dream come true for five local soccer athletes when they signed their first professional contracts to play on the Western Nevada Futbol Club, as a part of the United Premier Soccer League.
The celebration was hosted and supported by Max Casino.
The team will begin play in the UPSL’s Northwest Conference at the end of February.
“It’s an endeavor I hold dear to my heart,” said Ian Hill, general manager and head coach. “There wasn’t enough opportunity for young athletes in the area and we wanted to change that.”
UPSL originated in Los Angeles in 2011 with the goal of providing a competitive league platform for players seeking to play at higher levels. The league is the fastest-growing of its kind in the western United States, and offers pro development soccer, with more than 50 men’s teams throughout California, Arizona, Idaho and Colorado.
Formerly, Hill coached club soccer at Western Nevada College. He said he left the college to pursue the club for Carson City.
Partnered with him are Fred Simon Jr. and Art Castanares. Simon is a trauma and critical-care surgeon, and owner of Khristopher’s Ristorante & Bar in Carson City. Castanares is founder and CEO of Manzana Energy Inc., and publisher of La Prensa San Diego.
The group plans recruiting more sponsors and coaches along the way.
“Life is a vision — this is a vision,” Simon said. “It’s all about the youth. This team will not only develop skills in soccer, but it will develop each member as a human being. The personal development is productive for our country. It’s something Carson City will be proud of.”
With the help of Manzana Energy — a bio-fuel, solar energy industry based in Nevada — plans of building an environmentally friendly stadium and field are in the works.
The industry is also known for turning organic waste into commercial jet fuel for airlines.
“To create a safer place to play promotes environmental responsibility,” Catanares said. “But I think there’s a holistic approach to launching this team. We’re in the shadow of the Reno area and this goes beyond the sport because we’re getting involved with kids’ lives.”
Alex Martinez, 22, is one of the signed athletes on the team. He graduated from North Valleys High School in Reno, and attended Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Wash.
He’s been playing soccer since he was four and said he couldn’t believe the opportunity to be a part of a soccer league came to his hometown area.
“I’m super excited,” Martinez said. “I’m thankful that I can do this and not have to move far away. My family will be able to attend the games.”
Jaime Avila, 19, of Dayton High School, also signed his contract with Martinez.
“I’m nervous and excited all at once,” he said. “But this is something I’ve always wanted.”
Although the team will bring more opportunities to youth soccer players, the founders of Western Nevada FC are planning to have the team to get involved with community outreach, specifically focusing on struggling neighborhoods.
With that, they also plan to support education by giving out 100 free game tickets to local schools to use for student achievements.
“We tend to make it a significant impact,” Hill said. “We’re going to build our members as community leaders as well, with the best teaching and soccer expertise.”
Joining Avila and Martinez, members of the team include Cristian Hernandez, 21, of Carson City; Cristian Partida, 19, graduate of Hug High School in Reno; and Kyle Wilson, 17, current student of Damonte Ranch High School in Reno.
The team is expecting three other players out of the country as well; two from Australia and one from London.
Hill contacted local soccer coaches to contribute to the team, such as Luis Melgarejo as assistant coach, current head soccer coach of Dayton High School; Erik Wilson, soccer coach of Damonte Ranch; and Jeffery Valentine as scouting coordinator, former soccer varsity coach of Reed High School.