It’s remarkably quiet at the small field tucked behind Hillcrown Ranch. It’s easy to hear Pajaro Valley United coach Luis Guerrero’s voice call out across the pitch at Tuesday’s soccer practice.
River Valley Farms’ vast rows of berry plants border one side of the field and the towering eucalyptus trees that line the parallel San Miguel Canyon Road muffle the sound of whistles, kicks and player exclamations.
It’s here where a couple of local soccer players, Alexa Arango and Melissa Garcia, train with the Pajaro Valley United’s 2006 girls team.
And they’re two of a trio of local players that have made the top 100 in the country for their age groups with U.S. Youth Soccer’s Olympic Development Program. They’re weeks away from finding out if they’ve been invited to national tryouts for a chance to be among the top 26 players in their age group in the country.
An opportunity to play
Arango, of Marina, and Garcia, of Watsonville, are two players who have a relatively short commute to practice at the field between Las Lomas and Aromas.
Some of the other players drive from as far south as King City and as far north as San Jose. That hour-long drive comes because of what’s offered by Coach Guerrero and the rest of the Pajaro Valley United staff.
“You go elsewhere to clubs up in the Bay Area and it can cost thousands of dollars a season,” Arango’s father Chris Hoyt said.
But it’s far less expensive for the players with Pajaro Valley United — $170 per season.
“It’s all volunteer-based,” Guerrero explains. “Having this club really give the girls and the other kids a really good opportunity an option of something to do.”
For Arango specifically, this team provided a unique opportunity in addition to the lower cost. Youth soccer teams are organized by birth year but for her year (2007) there weren’t many options.
The solution? Have her play up a year with United’s 2006 girls team.
“It was tough at first because they’re more skilled and talented than I was,” Arango said. “So it was all about me working hard enough to get to that level.”
That level was no easy challenge. The team’s one of the best in the area in the 2006 bracket and recently lost in penalty kicks to the no. 2 ranked team in the state, San Juan Soccer Club (Rancho Cordova, Calif.), in a National Premier League qualifier.
“It was good for the girls to play that well against that tough of an opponent,” Guerrero said. “They know they can compete with anyone.”
Garcia’s skills and kick power make her and Arango dangerous in the attacking third. It’s not a two-player show, though; there’s talent at every position for the team outscoring opponents 31-17 over its last 10 matchups.
Individual and team excellence
The process of making the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (ODP)’s National Pool is a tough task.
First, Arango and Garcia had to play well enough to be selected for Northern California tryouts. They made the top 26 of that for their respective age categories and solidified their spots in ODP’s Western Regionals.
The Western Regionals draw players from Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.
The duo, as well as Carmel native Madison Gallagher in the 2005 group, all made the final 26 for the Western Regional.
“I was surprised when they called my name,” Arango admitted. “I knew that I worked really hard but that there were also a bunch of really talented girls at the (regional).”
“It was really cool because you don’t get that every time you go to play somewhere,” Garcia said.
They’ve attracted the attention of the San Jose Earthquakes as well. The Earthquakes recently began a partnership with Pajaro Valley United, and Arango and Garcia are reaping the benefits.
The two, as well as teammate Sophia Martel, train with the Earthquakes twice a week with other players from the Bay Area and beyond.
“The talent of the girls up there is really good,” Arango said. “It’s a harder, higher level of competition.”
“All of the girls know different things than here,” Garcia added. “And the facilities are much different, too.”
They find out in three weeks if they made the National Team tryouts. In the meantime, it’s back to focusing on the next challenge with Pajaro Valley United: the San Diego Surf Cup in the final weekend of July.
That’s a competition that’s seen the likes of Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and many U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team members.
“When you walk in to the stadium, there’s pictures of the players when they were there and where they are now,” Hoyt said. “It really tells the girls that if they play well enough, they can make it to that level, too.”
Ayrton Ostly peruses Twitter, fields, courts and tracks throughout Salinas looking for stories from the community. Have a tip? Drop an email to [email protected] and subscribe for full access to all of The Californian’s local news coverage.