Pro soccer: USL to put pro franchise in Monterey

Peninsula Premier Admin

MARINA — The United Soccer League, considered the second-highest professional league behind Major League Soccer in the United States, is putting an expansion team on the Monterey Peninsula.

And with it will come the renovation of Freeman Stadium, which was built when Fort Ord was a military base. The ancient, yet historic venue has sat idle except for hosting graduations for years on the CSU Monterey Bay campus.

The official announcement of the club from the USL and CSUMB is expected to come this morning.

“It’s super exciting,” CSUMB athletic director Kirby Garry said. “They are going to rehab that stadium. It’s a creative partnership.”

The new franchise will be named Monterey Bay FC and will begin play in March of 2022. The season will run through October.

CSU Monterey Bay Psychology Major Lauren Clark-Lewis waves to her father during CSUMB graduation at Freeman Stadium on campus on May 16, 2015. (David Royal – Monterey Herald)

“This is truly a diverse and beautiful community that has tremendous passion for soccer,” USL President Jake Edwards said. “We’re looking forward to the new rivalries the club’s arrival will bring.”

Currently, the league has franchises in Oakland and Sacramento. When Monterey Bay FC begins play, there will be 33 teams in the league.

The renovation of the stadium will come from private dollars, according to league consultant Erika Bjork.

“They will be investing millions,” Bjork said. “It’s a beautiful setting. What I noticed is the frame around the stadium with the Cypress trees. It fitting for the area. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

It doesn’t hurt that CSUMB is centrally located for fans from all regions in Monterey County and even Santa Cruz County to come watch the team play.

In addition to the stadium getting a facelift, a new synthetic surface will be installed just for soccer, and the use of it will be given to CSUMB’s men’s and women’s soccer teams.

As part of a deal with the United Soccer League, Freeman Stadium at CSU Monterey Bay will be refurbished. (John Devine — Herald staff)

“This partnership is an example of the commitment our university has to growing our NCAA Division II athletics program in an entrepreneurial way,” Garry said. “The shared use of the stadium will directly benefit our student-athletes in a positive way both for training and competition.”

The renovations are slated to begin this summer and be completed before the start of the 2022 season, with capacity expected to be 6,000.

Currently, the men’s and women’s soccer programs at CSUMB practice and have games on a natural grass field adjacent to the stadium.

“This will bring to life to an area of our campus footprint that desperately needs it,” Garry said. “Additionally, this will give us an opportunity to bid for and host California Collegiate Athletic Association and National Collegiate Athletic Association championship events.”

The track portion of the stadium, which hasn’t been used for a meet in over 20 years, will likely be taken out to create a more intimate setting for fans.

“They are already finalizing plans and the design,” Bjork said. “A year will go by real fast.”

The USL season is being delayed until May because of the pandemic, but is expanding by two teams in 2022 as Queensboro FC will come into the league along with Monterey Bay FC.

Two-time MLS Coach of the Year and former San Jose Earthquake head coach Frank Yallop will lead the soccer operations as the franchises’ sporting director.

Yallop has experience in building franchises, having recently put together USL teams in Fresno and Phoenix.

“I have a sense of what works,” Yallop said. “I’ve done this for other USL teams, and I did it while I was with the (San Jose) Earthquakes. Northern California has always had a special place in my heart. I’m humbled and honored to return to this special place.”

In two stints as the Earthquakes head coach, Yallop won 126 games and MLS Cups in 2001 and 2003. A return to the coaching sidelines has not been completely ruled out for the 56-year-old, who was part of the MLS’s inaugural player draft in 1996, going 57th overall to Tampa Bay.

“We’ll see,” said Yallop, who has had coaching stints with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chicago Fire. “The priority is to assemble a team that will be outstanding.”

Which is what Yallop did in Fresno in 2019. However, when the city was unable to come up with a suitable stadium, the franchise dissolved, with ownership getting priority at the Monterey-based franchise.

“Over the years, I have seen the passion for soccer that exists in the Monterey Bay,” said team owner and chairman Ray Beshoff said. “On behalf of the local investor group, we are honored to bring the world’s game at one of the highest professional levels to the region.”

Yallop, who coached former North Salinas soccer standout and Earthquake Hall of Fame defender Ramiro Corrales, has reached out to his former pupil, although he wouldn’t say in what capacity.

“He’s a legend in this community,” Yallop said. “The culture in the Salinas area and the Peninsula makes this a hotbed for soccer. He knows the area better than any of us.”

One of the things Yallop will be in search of when building a team through the expansion draft from the bottom up is local talent. A handful of former high school stars in the county have gone on and played in the MLS.

In November of 2019, the Earthquakes signed then 14-year-old goalie Emmanuel Ochoa of Salinas to a homegrown player contract.

“It’s a hidden gem down here,” Yallop said. “There’s a lot of young talent. We want this team to have a localized feeling.”

Yallop spoke about potentially bringing the Earthquakes down to CSUMB for a game or scrimmage. The two leagues do play each other in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in the summer.

As for the logo, the club’s official colors and crest will be unveiled in the coming months, according to Beshoff.

Monterey Bay FC will host listening sessions that will be open to the public in the creation of the club’s crest and colors. Ownership will seek local artists to engage in the potential design.

“We will build a club and a community with our fans and invest in retaining its talent and diversity,” Beshoff said.

Monterey Bay FC is already taking deposits for its inaugural season, at just $22.

“This partnership will provide student internship opportunities that adds value to the practical experience and career development for our students across a broad range of academic programs,” Garry said. “The game-day environment and student engagement we have imagined and discussed with the club is one that will be attractive to all students.”

Contributed by local news sources

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