Julio Sanchez sports hipster glasses and an even hipper haircut, and his fingers are as busy as his mind as he searches for information on his cell phone to help inform me of everything that El Camino Football Club, a multi-team travel club for kids and teens ages 8 to 19, has on its plate in the coming weeks and months. First up: El Camino is having an open house and team formation event for girls at the Constitution Soccer Complex in Salinas on May 19.
Next up: El Camino will send Jerry Ayon, Angel Medrano and Angel Amezcua – three players from its championship Galaxy team – for a week of tryouts with the professional Club Atlas in Guadalajara, Mexico at the end of May. Then El Camino will send 36 players, plus coaches, to the Far West Regional Championships in Seattle in late June. (Last year, two El Camino teams went all the way to the National Cup series, with one, Galaxy, losing the final game to Chicago, the top-ranked team in the nation.)
There’s also a barbecue June 11. A fundraising barbecue, of course, because the cost to send those kids and coaches to the regionals runs about $1,000 per head. As vice president of Salinas-based El Camino, Sanchez is in charge of making sure 300 players get the training they need to succeed, and that the coaches and assistants working with the 15 teams are the best they can find. And that enough people buy barbecue tickets to make the trip to glory happen.
That’s all in addition to his full-time job as a general manager at ag labor contractor Ramco Enterprises LP, and his other gig as a father of four.
Weekly: What’s your own background in soccer, err, I mean, football?
Sanchez: I started when I was 3 and now I’m 38, so I’ve been playing for 35 years. I’m an Alisal High grad and I played there for four years, and then I went on to Cal Poly for undergrad. I have four children and three of them play. The fourth will turn 3 in August, so she’s not quite ready yet.
El Camino is a new club, born out of a previously existing league. How did it come about?
El Camino is a travel club based out of Salinas, but we serve all of Monterey County, with players coming from as far as King City. This club we have now was part of a different league, but this year formed as a new entity. We wanted better playing surfaces and facilities, and to get more involved with development and coaching opportunities. The other league didn’t have as many available resources.
When you say “better playing surfaces,” why is that important?
Travel clubs playing at the premier levels are very specific in terms of what they require of a field, and a team can forfeit a game if it’s not a premier-level field. That means decent grass and no major potholes. Salinas is lacking in soccer fields and especially lacking in places to have night games that are affordable for the kids. Rabobank Stadium costs $1,500 a day to rent, plus you have to pay the referees. For our younger teams we’re using the Castroville Sports Complex. We’re all Salinas teams but we’re going there because there’s nothing comparable here.
How important is soccer for the kids involved in El Camino?
Especially here in Salinas, soccer has been known to be a premier sport and we compete at a high level. The kids we attract are looking for that higher level of competition and training, and we demand a higher level of discipline from them.
Parents who see these qualities say they like that structure. We have a director of coaching, Sergio Herrera, who manages all our coaches and every team has a coach and a team manager – usually a parent – who deals with scheduling, fees, fundraising and communication with parents. They keep us focused and let us narrow in and give our undivided attention to the kids.
It provides an outlet for these kids to learn social skills, life skills and competition for sure. And in a town like ours, mainly Salinas, we attract and bring in kids to spend the hours on the practice field rather than out on the streets.
When we take kids to tournaments, for many of them it’s their first time away from home, and to have them jumping into the pools or Jacuzzi, it’s a very neat scene and you can see their genuine excitement. The makeup of these kids, it’s all heart. For some of them, they might be undersized but they won’t be outplayed as a cohesive unit.