Soccer league in its 3rd year
If you go
What: Yampa Valley Soccer League games
When: 9 a.m. Sunday mornings
Where: Loudy-Simpson Park
Craig — With 10 minutes left in the second half, the soccer teams were tied Sunday morning at Loudy-Simpson Park.
Juan NuÃ±ez, 25, a chef at Vallartas Mexican Restaurant, is married and has a 1-year-old son.
Although he has grown-up responsibilities, every Sunday morning during soccer season, NuÃ±ez gets a break from daily life to play a boyhood game he loves.
NuÃ±ez and other players were running, falling, screaming, and the coaches walked back and forth on the sidelines yelling.
Fans on the sidelines also pitched in their voice.
Finally, the game ended with an unexpected 3-1 win for El Mexico against the newest team in the Yampa Valley Soccer League, Vallartas F.C. Soccer Club.
NuÃ±ez, who has been playing soccer for 11 years, is playing for the first year on an official team in Craig. He plays for Vallartas.
“It’s just for fun,” NuÃ±ez said. “I’ll do anything possible to be able to play.”
Isidro Quezada, soccer league president, has been struggling to make these games possible for the community. For decades, he fought for a place where teams could play and where the community could come watch.
“It’s cost us a lot, a lot, of work,” Quezada said. “With everything from getting the referees, to a place to play, everything has been a lot of work.”
Although some of the teams in the league were started 18 years ago, the league itself has only been in place for the past three. This year, there is one new team, Vallartas, made up of many of the workers of Vallartas Mexican Restaurant.
With the addition of Vallartas, a total of four teams in Craig and two teams in Steamboat Springs make up the soccer league. The teams are made up of men ages 18 and older who have to try out to make each team.
More teams are expected to join by next year.
Quezada has been in Craig for nearly 30 years, and his passion for soccer traveled with him from his hometown in Jalisco, Mexico, where he also was involved in soccer as a player and coach of a regional team.
In Craig, he formed the first informal soccer teams in 1981.
“We would try to get permission to use the middle school field, but they didn’t want to let us, so we would go in there anyway, but the cops were always chasing us out,” he said.
Eventually, the teams moved to playing on the field at Moffat County High School, but when the games started becoming more popular, bringing more people out, the police chased them out of there, too, Quezada said.
Still, he didn’t give up.
Before Loudy-Simpson was built, Quezada’s soccer teams played on the barren fields there for a few years until the fields were built.
To find competitors, the teams had to travel often to Edwards, Glenwood Springs or Grand Junction, but rising gas prices and travel time stopped a lot of players from going.
As the popularity of the sport grew in Craig, more teams started to form, and three years ago, Quezada had enough to form them into a league, so that they could play locally instead of traveling as much.
Quezada retired from playing eight years ago, but can’t see the day when he will step away from the sport entirely.
“I really enjoy just being there,” Quezada said. “As a coach, I yell at them, I hang out there telling them what I learned as a coach.”
Quezada is the president of the league, the coach of El Mexico team 1 and 2, and the president of the El Mexico Soccer Club organization, which includes El Mexico 1 and 2, as well as other youth teams.
For the past 12 years or so, Quezada has been fighting again, this time to get more soccer fields added to Loudy-Simpson.
During those 12 years, Quezada would go to six or more Craig City Council meetings a year.
Each time he would ask for the same thinga new field. Many teams, including youth teams, were using the two soccer fields at Loudy, and Quezada argued they weren’t enough.
For 12 years, the measure was never able to pass until recently. Now the fields are being built, and they are expected to be ready by the end of August.
“Other people told me I was wasting my time, that they were never going to listen,” Quzada said. “But I kept insisting because I had faith that someone was going to listen and think.”
The day he was heard, Quezada said he brought about 50 people with him to the council meeting. People from Craig Youth Soccer, Trapper Mine, soccer fans and high school coaches supported Quezada.
The soccer league is in its second round of games this season. In a month, finals will start with the four best teams competing.
Currently, the teams on top are Steamboat Pacific, El Mexico 1 and the new team, Vallartas.
Jose NuÃ±ez, captain of the Vallartas team, is confident that his team is getting into a rhythm that will take them to the finals.
“We know each other a lot more now, and which player can play which position,” Jose said.
Jose said the idea behind his team is to bring in younger youths from high school to get them trained at a higher level of playing.
A coach from a university team in Mexico has come to Craig and is coaching the Vallartas team. With his experience, Jose hopes to provide a good learning experience for all players.
Javier Mendez, a spectator and player for the team Tapatio, said that is part of the main importance of having sports teams like these.
“It gets the guys out of bad habits,” Mendez said. “They can come have fun and distract themselves. We’re all 100 percent fans of the sport.”
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