Every developing youth soccer league dreams of having the appropriate tools to provide their players with the things they need to succeed and, most importantly, to have fun playing the game.
For five independent soccer leagues in New York City, that dream became a reality when they partnered with Socio MLS, which will provide them with many benefits ranging from balls and clinics for coaches and referees to adidas soccer gear and MLS youth scouting opportunities, all at no cost to the leagues.
For the presidents of these five leagues, it’s a wonderful opportunity, and one they took advantage of for the first time this past Saturday, when one team from each league in five different age groups set upon Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, N.Y., for a Socio MLS interleague tournament.
“Our kids, they just come here to play and to enjoy,” said Miguel Cuellar, the president of MetroKids Inter-Regional Soccer League. “They have fun. The whole family is here, not only the kids.”
Since its inception in 2009, Socio MLS has branched from its roots in Los Angeles to partner with 24 leagues in four other MLS markets: New York, Dallas, Houston and Washington, D.C. The primary goal – to provide independent leagues with resources that they need – has not changed. But as the scope of the program has increased, its outreach has also evolved.
“Our first two years, we were really focused on creating a registration for each individual player,” Socio MLS director Jesse Perl said. “We wanted each kid to sign up, to have the Socio MLS card, to know that they were a part of it. … What we started to do is we shifted our tactics and we focused our relationship with the league presidents and the coaches.
“What we decided is, rather than give stuff directly to the players, let’s make the coaches and the presidents the heroes of their league and their community,” Perl added. “We’re really trying to empower them.”
There’s an added incentive for players, too. On Saturday in Queens, a scout from the New York Red Bulls was evaluating them, and to date there have been 30 MLS club-identified youth players invited to train in MLS Academies.
But even players who don’t catch the eyes of professional scouts can reap the benefits from playing in an organized league.
“I am convinced that very few guys are going to make it in soccer as professional players,” said Luis Montoya, president of Big Apple Youth Soccer League. “A lot of them are going to go to college because they’re using soccer as a tool, and that is my goal. My goal is for these kids to have an education.”
Leagues represented by Socio MLS tend to be lower income, and the language barrier is sometimes problematic for coaches, league presidents and parents whose native tongue is Spanish. The hope is that Socio MLS can begin to knock down some of these obstacles and bring the Hispanic community into the wider world of American soccer.
Also, through its partnership with adidas, Socio MLS has so far donated 2,000 coaches’ jackets, while adidas and Castrol have provided a combined 4,000 soccer balls. With additional support from Allstate, Gatorade, The Home Depot, Makita, Pepsi Max and Volkswagen, the program has helped 170 coaches earn NSCAA certifications and 100 referees earn US Soccer Referee Federation certifications.
“[MLS teams] need to put someone who looks like us [on the field] so we can relate to it,” NSCAA: Latin American Soccer Coaches Committee chairman Marco Santillan said. “I think MLS is doing some effort to do it. … MLS is providing us with coaching education. The better coaches that we have in those neighborhoods, the better players we will have, and they will have a chance to be part of it.”