This coming June, a boys U16 beach soccer team will be traveling across the country, from Oceanside, California to Virginia Beach, Virginia, to compete at the highest competitive level in the largest and most prestigious amateur beach soccer event in the world - The North American Sand Soccer Championships (NASSC). With over 1,300 teams competing at this event in 2016, no other beach soccer tournament even comes close. In addition to the amateur competition, the event also serves as the US Open for Beach Soccer, attracting numerous professional teams from around the globe each year.
SoCal Legacy is a traveling competitive beach soccer team consisting of players from multiple clubs from the Oceanside area. Legacy’s overall record and related stats are impressive by any measure with 73 match wins, 9 losses, and 3 ties. They have scored around 550 goals, on average finding the net nearly 7 times a match, while typically allowing less than 3 goals a game. Their fast-paced style of play consists of lightning fast transitions, combined with extremely accurate finishing from both distance and close range, and a variety of skills and talents that have been forged on the sands of sunny Southern California over the past several years.
Background historyIt all started in 2013, when a U12 boy’s recreational team entered a local beach soccer tournament in Oceanside, California. That single experience united a team of players and their families to embark on an incredible journey spanning the past 4 years and covering 21 tournaments, including a couple of cross-country trips to Clearwater Beach, Florida where they have won two consecutive MBS National Championships - the BU14 title in 2015 and the BU16 title in 2016.
A one-time event, simply intended for some summertime fun, ended up transforming into their first “beach season”, consisting of 4 tournaments, and concluded with their first championship win in August at the 2013 Copa Cobana Beach Soccer Tournament in El Segundo, California. “That was all it took and the next spring the same players and parents came together for a second season”, says Dean Gillespie, team manager for SoCal Legacy, “we all had beach soccer fever”. A second team had also started to form during the original season, consisting of some younger brothers of Legacy players and their friends (dubbing themselves “Barcelona”). This team, and at times a few others, followed Legacy from tournament to tournament during that summer and subsequent seasons. Now there were many more families involved and it didn’t take long before they all began to enjoy each other’s company by engaging in multi-team barbeques, boogie boarding between matches, and just having a great time at each tournament. “An incredible amount of fantastic memories were created in those early seasons, as both teams traveled up and down the coast of California competing in various regional competitions from San Diego to Los Angeles”, says Gillespie, “summertime fun that will never be forgotten”.
Beach Soccer’s Side EffectsThey started off as a recreational team, but as they returned to their clubs every fall each player was stronger, had better ball touch, and increased fitness levels, due to the benefits of training and competing in beach soccer all summer long. One-by- one each player started to migrate to competitive grass soccer in part, due to the fitness and extra training they were receiving from each beach soccer season. “It is a great sport that can really help to make these young athletes even better grass players”, says Gillespie. More championship medals accumulated in subsequent seasons, and the love of the game overwhelmed everyone. “It seemed like the coach was adding more and more tournaments each year and during the third season Legacy would embark on their first ambitious out-of- state adventure”, says Gillespie. One of many contests won in 2015 was the Soccer in the Sand tournament on Coronado Island, in San Diego, which is part of a larger nationwide network of tournaments. Gillespie continued, “winning Coronado qualified Legacy for the Major Beach Soccer (MBS) National Championships that following December, but we had to figure out how to get there”.
Fundraising is Key“Being a competitive travel beach team requires funding”, says Steve Citron, Head Coach of SoCal Legacy, “and one of the really great things about these players is that they all come from different backgrounds, schools, soccer clubs, etc. but every spring and summer they come together to play beach soccer and we have all raised money as a team to help pay for each season. We have some fantastic parents who have done a phenomenal job of organizing and implementing events to help fundraise so that every player, regardless of their family’s financial resources, can participate each season”.
The MBS National Championships occurs each year in December, so the challenge was to raise funding to help pay for the trip, while still practicing beach soccer throughout the fall, while also still competing in club soccer and maintaining acceptable grades at school. Academic performance is very important to all the parents and the coach - “there is a team contract and one of the many key points is that each player needs to maintain an acceptable GPA”, says Citron, “as much as we love this sport, we do not short change grades for beach soccer”.
Nestled between the highly affluent area of Carlsbad and Camp Pendleton’s military base, the Oceanside area is home to families from humble means with many parents working multiple jobs just to make ends meet each month. “From the beginning it has always been about the players and their families first, and then figuring out how to raise funding to pay for each season second, rather than looking for players from families that are wealthy enough to pay their own way as a pre-requisite to playing on the team. We started with a great group of players and families and we have always tried to work as team, both on and off the beach, to remove financial obstacles that can prevent participation”.
Indeed, in 2016 the team not only found a way to get to Florida for a second time, but also inspired 3 other teams to make it there as well. “The story of our title victory in Florida spread throughout the high schools and then several teams asked us how we made it to Florida the first time around and we helped guide them through the qualification process at Coronado, then shared with them our best fundraising practices and what we had learned on that first trip - as far as how to keep costs down”, says Gillespie. Three other teams were able to successfully fundraise and go with SoCal Legacy last year. “We had four teams and about 80 people total on the same plane there and back” says Coach Citron, “it was such an incredible experience to be a part of a larger group representing our community at a National Championship being held across the country. In the end, 3 of the 4 teams returned with medals, as we won the BU16 and BU18 championships and our younger BU14 team (Barcelona) took second, so there was a lot to celebrate”. The fourth team that did not place is making their professional debut at The Beach Soccer Championships in Oceanside, California this May.
Virginia Beach BoundAfter winning their second National Championship by a score of 4-0, SoCal Legacy immediately began looking towards the NASSC to not only challenge the team, but also help them reach the next level. “Although Oceanside hosts the Beach Soccer Championships each year, which is one of the largest tournaments on the West Coast, we have always known that the NASSC is the ultimate in beach soccer competition worldwide, hands down”, says Citron. “There is absolutely no other amateur youth beach soccer tournament that even comes close in size and scope”. Providing four competitive levels in each age division, Legacy has chosen to enter the highest level for their age group, “with only one more tournament planned between now and Virginia Beach, we currently stand at 15 championship victories and 4 second place finishes out of 21 tournaments, so the team is ready to compete at the highest level possible,” says Citron.
Unfortunately, the team has been scrambling for funding ever since they sent in their NASSC entry fees. “The difficulty we are experiencing is that many of the sources that donate just finished sending us to Florida last December, so those resources are tapped out until later this year”, added Citron, “but throughout the past 4 ½ years I have always emphasized with the players that virtually anything is possible if you set your mind to it – do not let others, or certain events, or your circumstances discourage you from achieving your maximum potential. This applies both on and off the playing field,” says Citron, “beach [soccer] is a lot like life - no matter how bad it gets, the size of the challenge that you face, or the difficulties that you may experience, you simply never give up and you keep your head in the game, because you can score from anywhere on the field at any time, you can be behind by six goals in the final period of a championship match and score 7 to come from behind and win. Some of our sweetest memories are come-from- behind victories against incredibly talented teams. With determination, focus, and hard work you can accomplish anything.”
Magnetic pullOceanside is a community that is absolutely crazy about soccer and it is quite possible that SoCal Legacy could set the stage for even more teams to follow in their footsteps next year. “There is a high probability that what happened in Florida may potentially happen in Virginia Beach in future years,” added Citron, as SoCal Legacy looks to scout out the NASSC first, then help bring a larger contingency of teams in subsequent years, “what I am most proud of with this team, these players, and their families is the positive impact we have made in this community - by demonstrating what can be accomplished, we have inspired others to reach for their dreams, and have encouraged other teams to make it happen,” said Citron. “We are really looking forward to representing our community, and the West Coast in general, in the highest competitive level of the BU16 division at the NASSC - which really equates to the highest competitive BU16 beach soccer division in the world”, says Coach Citron, “it will be a classic East Coast versus West Coast situation guaranteed to be a lot of fun and great memories for all - may the best Coast win!”.