Students live dream, launch Missouri Soccer League

Amye Buckley

Gathered in a borrowed office, two Missouri Southern students are living their dream, and that dream is soccer.

Sergio Rodriguez, senior communication and marketing major, and Hugo Chavez, senior public relations major, are the directors of the Missouri Soccer League. The two hail from the same town in Mexico. They moved to the University of Texas at El Paso and then came to Southern. This spring they will graduate together, but for now they are working on bringing soccer to the four-state area.

Rodriguez has been playing team soccer since he was 12. He has played baseball and volleyball, and coached and refereed soccer in the area. This fall he joined a league in Carthage. Moving from the soccer team at Southern to the local leagues. Rodriguez saw the need for organized soccer in Joplin. A friend told him about Joplin’s Dover Fields. Rodriguez and Chavez pulled together a plan and approached the city. Approved in January the 20-team league starts games in March. Along the way, Rodriguez and Chavez have found support from the community and their professors. Local businessman Felipe Perez joined them on the board of directors and helped them establish sponsor support. The two credit Dr. Robert Clark, professor of communication, with helping them pull together their Web site and Lee Pound, alumni director, for reviewing their media kit.

“We are talking about being in charge of 400 people and between the two of us it’s too much, I think,” Rodriguez said.

Chavez said soccer was an integral part of his childhood in Mexico.

“Remember when you were young and you played tag and all that stuff?” Chavez asked. “Instead of tag, we play soccer.”

He came to Southern to play on the soccer team. In Texas, soccer was a school club. Chavez has held an internship with Disney and during the 2006 World Cup he traveled to Germany to experience the excitement of the tournament firsthand. He has trained with a professional soccer team and has experience with coaching and as a referee. Football is another favorite sport for Chavez, and although he loves to watch and play football, soccer still holds first place in his heart.

“Soccer is forever,” Chavez said. “When you’re on a team or if you’re on the field you understand. If you haven’t played soccer …” Chavez shrugged.

They are not the only Southern students involved in the league.

David Tole, technical support leader, said he has been playing soccer since he learned to walk.

“I’m a lover of soccer and I’m passionate about the game,” Tole said. “I don’t want to miss out on this opportunity.”

Tabitha Assel, senior business management major, played with Southern’s intramural program.

“I love to play,” Assel said.

Although she will be one of the few women playing in the league, Assel said she is ready for the challenge.

“It’s fun. It’s a little more fun I think than all girls because the game is so much faster paced,” Assel said.

Some players, like Assel, sign up as a free agents and will be placed on a team. Other teams join together. Out of the 20 teams which will make up the Missouri Soccer League, six teams are full and another nine have openings. Rodriguez says the members are diverse: Hispanic players, local students, women, and some team members, like Tole, from Africa.

Chavez and Rodriguez hope to expand the operation this summer by teaching soccer technique to area teens.

“We are just trying to make soccer grow in the area,” Rodriguez said.

He said this will be a professional operation with a focus on the game. No alcoholic beverages will be sold on the premises and he expects it to be family-friendly. But the league will also be competitive. Chavez described the competitive nature as the same aggressiveness found in basketball.

“It’s for fun,” Rodriguez said. “Go ahead and compete but don’t kill yourself.”

They purchased insurance for the teams and have competitors sign waivers. Security was hired for the games. The two plan for a variety of concessions. They set up game parking and are already attracting sponsors. Games will be played on Sunday starting at 9 a.m. and finishing up around 4 p.m. March 12 is the deadline for members to join. Both see a high potential for soccer in the Joplin area.

Chavez says soccer is the most widely watched sport in the world and even holds appeal across economic boundaries.

“Soccer’s like a lifestyle I guess,” Chavez said. “It’s not something you can put into words.”