With more than 250-million people playing soccer across the globe, it’s the world’s most-popular sport. Like basketball, it’s a sport you can start from a young age, where all you need is a ball to start building the fundamentals of the game.
FC Sonora, a youth soccer program serving Southern Arizona, is looking to provide increased opportunities for local children to not only get active, but learn to love the game of soccer. Founded in 2010, the vision for the program was to take a developmental approach to the game by providing athletes with opportunities to really grow to be competitive before stepping out onto the field.
At FC Sonora, the primary focus is the players and their developmental needs. By teaching the players a strong base of skills, learning to understand the game and developing a love and a sense of passion for it, FC Sonora hopes to create a more positive atmosphere and experience to avoid burnout among youth.
“We’re not pushing the numbers like an FC Tucson or an AZ RFL,” Gabriel Rocha, the Director of Coaching for FC Sonora said. “I think we’re around two, maybe three hundred players a year.”
Rocha’s mission is to use the game to impact young men and women beyond the field by providing opportunities to more players, families and people in the area.
“What we want is for people of all ages, of different ethnic groups and backgrounds to just fall in love with the game and to make it accessible,” Rocha said.
FC Sonora is a non-profit, grassroots organization which aims to provide financial assistance, scholarships and waivers to youth in the Southern Arizona area looking to participate in soccer either competitively or recreationally. With all coaches on the staff serving as volunteers, it helps keep costs for participation low.
“Our club has a lot of volunteers, but the experience level is there and we’re committed to coaches who are committed to us,” Rocha said. “We want to grow, but first and foremost we are looking for those coaches that want to be a part of this, a part of giving back to the community.”
According to Rocha, while the club works to serve all youth in the area, there’s been a specific focus on the southside and the refugee community. More than 20 scholarships each year are awarded to those from the surrounding refugee communities to provide an opportunity to play club soccer.
“We’re trying to continue to make bigger commitments, bigger strides,” Rocha said.
Rocha says FC Sonora was recently awarded a $4,500 grant to help continue using the game as a way to promote higher education among players from Lutheran Social Services. Small, local organizations and businesses have helped fund tournament opportunities for the teams to gain experience. In addition, the club hosts a tournament each year which has continued expanding in size every season. It helps to bring in a large chunk of their financial support needed for each season.
“We do our best with the resources that we have,” Rocha said. “We’re hoping to get that grant renewed again, because that’s going to be a big help for us.”
Mainly, Rocha hopes those who participate with FC Sonora walk off the field as better individuals. He said the club works to try to fill in the holes some kids may have at home in their family lives by making sure they’re providing ways to stay on track.
The club’s most recent member to benefit from the mutual dedication is Boniface Ekenya, a Kenyan refugee. Ekenya will be attending Paradise Valley Community College on a soccer scholarship starting this semester.
“He played for me at Catalina High School for a couple of years and plays for FC Sonora,” Rocha said. “He is an executioner, a Catalina product and the kid is an absolute stud.”
FC Sonora is currently looking for people with a passion for sharing their knowledge and love of the game with others to become involved with their organization. Rocha says the sport, in general, is in desperate need of more female coaches to serve as role models for young women on the field.
“The box is still desperately lacking more female coaches and I’d love to have more female coaches come in to coach for [FC Sonora].”
More information about FC Sonora, you can visit their website here.
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07