By Brandon HENSLEY
Plant a seed and let it grow. It’s a basic metaphor that has frustrated soccer fans in the U.S. for decades: Plant all the seeds they want, the sport still lags behind others in sheer popularity.
But here comes another season of the American Youth Soccer Organization, and maybe it’s fitting that its regular season games begin the Saturday after Labor Day because all of the hard work the organization has put into making soccer viable in the foothills has been paying off.
Take Robert Parada. He owns Gateway Preschool Academy in Chino, which requires him to make the trip to the school from his Montrose home at least three times a week. During the school year, he’s an assistant varsity boys’ soccer coach for Crescenta Valley High School, the same team that won a CIF Southern Section title this year.
But starting this week, he’ll be heading up practices for two AYSO Region 88 teams: he coaches his son’s U12 team and his daughter’s U10 team (AYSO is for ages 4 to 18).
“It’s hard. But it’s a passion,” he said of his schedule. “I love the sport, I love my kids, so by proxy I love all the kids, anybody I coach.”
Region 88, which includes the Glendale and La Crescenta area, kicks off its game schedule Sept. 8, and that means a month of practice for the participants before then. Region 88 Commissioner Aldo Mascheroni said the numbers have greatly expanded for decades since AYSO began in the area in the 1970s.
“We’ve got a 55-person board of directors, and together now for the better part of 10 years we’ve made great strides in not only expanding this region but making it a good region,” Mascheroni said.
This year he said there are roughly 3,500 players on 321 teams.
Finding a place for all those kids can prove challenging, and Parada said the league tries to find any field around town to use, include the Glendale Sports Complex, Montrose Park and Dunsmore Park.
“Any park you drive by, those are usually permitted for AYSO,” said Parada, who has been with the league for six years and admires how Mascheroni runs the league.
“Region 88 in Glendale is such an incredible region that we just kind of fell in love with the sport through the region. It’s so well-organized,” Parada said.
Practices are an hour and a half, and Parada tries to make them as fun as possible. He said any new technique he picks up that is both educational and entertaining, he’ll use.
“They learn more if it’s fun, so any drills that are entertaining and fun to do, the kids learn better,” he said.
Teams under 8 years old have its season end by Thanksgiving. Under 18 teams may have playoffs, which can go until the end of the calendar year. That can create havoc for Parada and his job at CV, and he also coaches All-Star teams in the spring.
“Because I enjoy it, it’s worth it,” he said.
As for Mascheroni, he was born in Argentina, a soccer-mad country, unlike the U.S. When he grew up here in the 1970s, the culture was distinctly different.
“You expect being able to go out to the park and kick the ball around with your friends, and you don’t get that opportunity,” he said of his younger years. “But you make do. You go out and play catch or play basketball.”
But now he’s seen the strides AYSO has made, and he’s proud of it, especially the work put in by the over-700 volunteers every year, which includes coaches and referees.
“I can’t say enough [about] them, some of the sacrifices they make in order to make sure the kids play soccer. People take time away from their families to get certified,” he said.
While the Olympics are currently being held in London, Mascheroni said it’s the years when the World Cup is happening that the number of participants for AYSO “really shoot up.”
Another boon to AYSO participation? David Beckham, the English superstar who joined the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007.
“He’s pretty well-liked in our region,” Mascheroni said. “When he signed up to play for the Galaxy it gave people a lot more interest in soccer because he’s such a large figure.”