United Soccer League expands to Sacramento

The newest United Soccer League expansion team is calling Sacramento home.

Soccer fanatics will be at Raley Field in Sacramento on July 18 for the event dubbed Sac Soccer Day, where Warren Smith unveils the roster and staff for the USL professional team, which begins competition next year, 2014.

A full day of soccer begins leads to a doubleheader featuring México’s Liga de Ascenso team Dorados de Sinaloa against English Premier League’s Norwich City Canaries at Raley Field, the home of the River Cats, the Triple-A baseball club of the Oakland A’s.

José Reynoso, a former Spanish-language play-by-play commentator for the River Cats, is the USL team’s Director for Community Development.

Reynoso’s feedback about a pro soccer franchise in Sacramento echos those of many throughout the soccer community.

“Portland, Seattle, Montreal and Vancouver are four squads that came from the USL and are very successful,” said Reynoso, “We want that same momentum in Sacramento.”

The USL, which was founded in 2010, hosts 13 professional soccer teams. Sacramento will be the 14th team. Most of the franchises are on the east coast; one team, the Barracuda Fútbol Club, is from Antigua Barbuda in the Carribbean. A local all-star team, which includes 12 players from the National Premier Soccer League’s 2010 national champion Sacramento Gold Soccer Club, will be featured in the first exhibition match against Major League Soccer’s San José Earthquakes’ reserve team.

The longterm goal is a Major League Soccer team and new stadium based in Sacramento. Until that day, the USL team will compete at Hughes Stadium on the campus of Sacramento City College, which has spent millions on improvements.

Smith, a former football player at the University of California, Davis, was not a soccer fan until he learned more about the sport. He’s credited for leading the effort back in 1997 that eventually attracted the Sacramento River Cats and the construction of Raley Field. Smith negotiated the real estate deal for the construction.

Smith is quickly becoming a soccer fanatic through the information crossing his desk about Sac Soccer Day, where a contest will also be introduced on naming the team.

“It’s hard to believe that Norwich from the most-prestigious league in the world will be here. They just happened to be traveling in the U.S.,” said Smith, who was joined by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson last December at a press conference that introduced the USL team. Smith and Johnson were proponents of the NBA Sacramento Kings’ attempted move to Seattle. In the end, the NBA announced the Kings would remain in Sacramento.

Smith is a firm believer in the support from the community, which is evident in the 7,500 tickets already sold for Sac Soccer Day.

Sacramento Gold’s manager Rubén Mora, Sr. hopes the entire venture is a success.“I think it’s a wonderful thing for something at this level. The USL team is reaching out to the community,” said Mora, an inductee to the California State Athletic Association who along with the late-Richard Novoa, co-founded the Gold in 2010, then the semi-pro squad won the national title.

“It would be nice if they made a USL team out of the Gold,” added Mora, “But I hope they take some of our players and they move them to a professional team. I feel very positive that we have the players to become professional.”

Further south, an upward expansion plan has always been on the minds of the staff on the Fresno Fuego, a USL semi-professional club competing in the Premier Development League (PDL).

“We think it is great that Sacramento will have a professional soccer team. This opens doors for our local players to earn contracts and stay closer to home,” said Fuego’s manager Jeremy Schultz. “The Fuego has helped produce a number of professionals and our organization has embraced our place in the soccer development ladder.”

The Fuego, who plays out of Chukchansi Park, the Fresno Grizzlies Triple-A baseball franchise of the San Francisco Giants, hopes to pursue future preseason exhibition matches with Sacramento’s USL team.

Schultz sees the USL team as a route to a full-fledged professional team.

“I personally would love to see the Fresno Fuego eventually become a professional team, however I also understand the elements that it takes to be successful there and we are close,” said Schultz.“The community can help by attending games and creating an environment at Chukchansi Park that will turn the heads of people and let them know that the sport of soccer is on the move.”Without giving up precise costs, Smith said it takes anywhere from $3 to $5 million per year to operate a professional squad, but it’s a small budget compared to an MLS team.

“The MLS teams are probably in the $25 to $50 million range. The USL level is still a relatively small business,” he said.Reynoso, also the play-by-play commentator for the Gold, is confident the USL team will reach every part of the soccer community, and further introduce the sport to yound, upcoming players and fans.“Soccer is a universal sport. I’m taking it further to reach out to all communities. We’re reaching out to Latinos, out to the Asian community, the Hmong community, Fiji, it’s all inclusive,” said Reynoso.

Tickets for Sac Soccer Day can be purchased at Raley Field or call (916) 376.4676.

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