Fresno’s own professional soccer team, the Fresno Football Club, officially held its first practice at Chukchansi Park today (Jan. 31) introducing numerous players to the roster in time for USL opening day on March 17.
It was last July that United Soccer League (USL) president Jake Edwards visited Chukchansi Park to congratulate Ray Beshoff, the lead investor, and Fresno Mayor Lee Brand on the approval of the expansion club and take part in the unveiling of the Fresno Football Club crest. In the introduction and expansion, the Fresno Football Club also acquires the Fresno Fuego.
Fresno hosts Las Vegas Lights FC (March 17) at Chukchansi Park at 7 p.m. to open its inaugural season in the USL. Prior to the official play in March, Los Zorrows, Foxes in Spanish, the team will travel to southern California to face Major League Soccer (MLS) club Los Angeles Galaxy on Feb. 15 for a preseason exhibition match.
Today’s practice on the club’s home field downtown revealed the 20 contracted players on the roster, which included some familiar names: Midfielder José “Chiva” Cuevas, goalie Agustín Rey and forward Renato Bustamante, who suited up for the Fresno Fuego. Approximately seven spots remain to be filled for full-time positions on the club. Among the trialists are Milton Blanco, a former Fuego captain.
According to head coach Adam Smith, the final roster will be decided in the coming weeks.
“We’ve got three or four guys that are on trial. We also have two or three guys yet to join us,” said Smith, a former Sacramento Republic FC assistant coach.
“We’ve got quite a big squad in for preseason, but we felt that was important being the first time the team’s come together. It will be a couple of tough conversations for me. They’re soccer players, they’re athletes; they live and breathe the game. They want to get out here and kick the ball everyday.”
One of the two first players to sign with the Foxes is Agustin Cazárez, a former Republic FC, who helped the USL squad based in Sacramento to the playoffs in 2016.
Cazárez pursued the sport throughout California: He’s played on pro, semi-pro squads from his native Los Angeles area to northern California. The 28-year-old midfielder played for nearby Sacramento Republic FC, also a USL-Pro division squad, from 2014 to 2016. Before joining the USL, he suited up in the Premier Development League for the Ventura County Fusion.
“It’s exciting, for sure, a new city, a pro soccer team. I’m really looking forward to it. I know everybody’s excited for this opportunity,” said Cazárez, who said he began the sport in the first grade in southern California.
“Adam wanted me to be part of something special, something new. It seems like the people around here are very enthusiastic about us coming in here and creating a new soccer team,” said Cazárez, a Taft High School (San Fernando Valley) graduate in 2008 .
He played for Moor Park College for two years then transferred to St. Mary’s College. In his time at St. Mary’s, he helped the squad achieve an Elite 8 berth in the national championship tournament.
Rony Argueta, a former standout at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a southern California native, said he’s happy to be a part of the growth of a new club.
“The Fuego has really hyped up the soccer around here,” said Argueta, a midfielder with a degree in mechanical engineering from UCSB.
Before using his degree in a 9 to 5 job, the 26-year-old said he’s eager to represent Fresno’s pro soccer club.
“You can only do this for so long, so I’m glad I’m here. I’d like to thank Frank Yallop and Adam Smith for giving the opportunity here.”
He suited up in the Premier Development League (PDL) for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks for three seasons prior to his arrival in Fresno. Before landing a pro soccer deal, Argueta said he’s worked as events staff attendant, a host, a busser, and rental car attendant for Enterprise Rent A Car.
The Foxes will compete in the United Soccer League (USL) Division II, which governs over 33 teams between the Western and Eastern conferences. Among those teams is the Sacramento Republic FC, which won the national title in its inaugural season in 2010.
Contracted Fresno Football Club players
Ramon Martin Del Campo
Juan Pablo Caffa