The soccer fields at Cal State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) were packed Friday morning with players running through soccer drills and playing pick-up games.
But these weren’t current Otter players. These were a variety of players from across the county who came to play as a part of the Chevron Soccer Academy’s free three-day combine and tournament event this weekend at CSUMB.
For kids like Ashley Ochoa, an incoming junior at Gonzales High who made the 45-minute drive up with her mother and little sister, the free camp was a can’t-miss event.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to come to if they don’t have the resources,” she said.
She plays for the Spartans during the school year and suits up for the South County FC Aztecs as her travel team.
Her mother Elizabeth found out about the camp from the Aztecs coaches and felt it was important for her daughters to make the trip up.
Besides enjoying the challenges and playing with different players than usual, having former World Cup champion Brandi Chastain and multiple current soccer players at the camp was a huge draw.
“They’re role models for our kids, our girls,” she said. “They get to see how people have made it in the big leagues. They look up to them and think, ‘it’s possible for me to go out and play when I go out to college.'”
It’s not just parents that were interested, either. Ana Gutierrez brought 17 kids from the Salinas-based soccer teams she coaches to the camp.
“They’re between the ages of 12 and 17,” she said of the athletes coming with her. “It’s great for them to come out and learn from some of the best.”
No out-of-pocket costs were big for her as well.
“A lot of the parents, when I told them it was free and transportation would be provided, they were instantly on board,” Gutierrez said. “Because it’s free and accessible, I had almost all of my teams come out here.”
That was one of the important parts of the event for Chastain who has firsthand experience at working up the ranks of the youth soccer system in America.
“What we’ve seen now with sports, and with soccer, is a model now where it’s a pay to play,” the two-time Olympic gold medalist said. “It’s really difficult for all families to participate because things become exclusive. Financially, the burden is pretty severe. Today we get to share the beauty of soccer and that’s what I love about our community in the Bay Area.”
This weekend’s event is a partnership with Chevron, the non-profit Open Goal Project and the San Jose Earthquakes.
Chastain was joined by professional players Lauren Sesselman, an Olympic bronze medalist with the Canadian national team; Víctor Bernárdez, a former San Jose Earthquakes defender; Tristan Bowen, a forward with AFC United in Sweden who previously played for the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA, and multiple professional coaches.
While the players moved in groups throughout the field, there was a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) area for the kids to explore as well.
“We’ll make sure that (the kids) learn they have to balance the educational side of things with STEM and the soccer side of things,” Chastain said. “And they’ll meet in a really happy place.”
The three-day event kicked off Friday with the girls combine and continues with the boys combine starting Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and the boys and girls tournament Sunday at 9:30 a.m. as well, all at the CSUMB fields.
This is the first of what Chevron officials believe will be many of these events in the future.
They’ll definitely have attendees and support should they continue in the future.
“If they keep having them I’ll keep motivating my girls to join in,” Gutierrez said. “Me and one of the other coaches are good but it’s not at the level of how these pros do it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Ayrton Ostly peruses Twitter, fields, courts and tracks throughout Salinas looking for stories from the community. Have a tip? Drop an email to email@example.com and subscribe for full access to all of The Californian’s local news coverage.