.Surf City Kick-Off

Father-son team launches Santa Cruz’s first-ever semi-pro soccer teams

When thinking of Santa Cruz, a pervasive soccer culture may not be the first association that comes to mind. But one family of soccer fanatics is trying to change that.

Father-son duo Germán and Rodrigo Plaza are launching Santa Cruz’s first-ever semi-professional men’s and women’s soccer teams to start playing in the fall. Their local youth soccer club, Eclipse Soccer Academy, is partnering with the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) to grow the sport’s competitive program locally by creating adult fourth division national teams.

“I am looking for players who are willing to dare to dream and journey together,” Germán says.

Germán, who is originally from Peru, has more than 60 years of soccer experience both as a player and coach. Over the last four decades, he has coached boys and girls youth teams, high school, college and professional teams from the east to the west coast, as well as internationally in South America. 

Before co-founding Eclipse Soccer Academy in Santa Cruz, he coached recreational teams across the city for over a decade, including with Santa Cruz City Youth Soccer Club. As a result of Germán and Rodrigo branching out on their own, the Santa Cruz organization severed ties with them last May for allegedly violating league rules and bylaws.  

secure document shredding

But starting these competitive adult teams in his American hometown of Santa Cruz has been a dream Germán has been working toward. He says oftentimes soccer careers stop abruptly once a player turns 18, and there are few places for passionate players to turn to that aren’t college or professional—and not everyone is cut out for those paths.

What a local UPSL team provides is a pipeline for young and mature players to continue playing at a competitive level without the full-time commitment. And it can still act as a stepping stone for players who eventually want to go on to play in higher divisions, even major league teams.

“We want to create something here where you can keep chasing the dream but stay close to your community, to your family,” Germán says. “That’s what we don’t have right now.”

This is part of the rapid expansion of UPSL partnerships across the nation, which started in 2011 in Southern California with just 10 teams. Today the league has more than 400 teams, with a recent push to include more women’s teams in its growth plans. Santa Cruz teams will play opponents from in and around the Bay Area, including teams from Salinas, Oakland, San Jose and Napa.

Rodrigo, 31, has played soccer since he was 4 under his father’s tutelage. He says most people assume a high level of play only comes from big cities with unlimited amenities—but that’s not necessarily true.

“There are examples of individuals that have been able to reach very significant levels of play that are coming from our county,” he says. “There is a lot of talent in town that has yet to be given this opportunity.”

One aspiring player is Sadie Strout, 19, who has been participating on soccer teams in Santa Cruz since she was five years old. She graduated from Soquel High School last year and is currently playing for the Cabrillo College women’s team.

As a younger player she commuted to nearby cities like San Jose and Salinas to get exposure to more competitive leagues, but her hope was always for Santa Cruz to launch a program like the UPSL.

“I got really excited when I heard it was starting in Santa Cruz,” Strout says. “It will be nice to have a team here to represent my hometown.”

Playing center midfield, Strout says her role is to be a playmaker, looking for sneaky ways to pass a ball through difficult defensive lines so her teammates can get a break for the goal.

When considering the types of players he’s looking for, Germán says he wants to bring a group of people together who can collaborate without ego, regardless of their differences. The goal is for the culture of the club to reflect the city it’s serving, so Germán and Rodrigo are looking to Santa Cruzans for guidance on how best to represent the people through soccer. They are also taking note of established teams nearby like the Oakland Roots and Galaxy Silicon Valley to get inspiration—both clubs emphasize a strong culture of support from local fans.

“You can’t ever promise fans that you will win no matter what,” Germán says. “But what we can promise them, and do, is that it will be exciting and entertaining.”

Strout, who already registered for tryouts on April 27 and May 19, says she would be proud to play for the women’s team, especially as respect for female players has grown in recent years. If selected, she wants to do whatever it takes to contribute to the success of the team.

“When people usually look at Santa Cruz they think beach-town surfers, but there are a lot of athletes here, hidden talents,” Strout says. “Now that this team is coming, soccer will be more of an initial focus and everyone will be able to see the important talent.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

music in the park san jose
Good Times E-edition Good Times E-edition