WATSONVILLE — The Pajaro Valley United U15 girl’s soccer team is already one of the top programs in both the state and nation. Now, head coach Luis Guerrero is trying to showcase his squad at the global level.
For the past two years, P.V. United has been raising money to fly out the entire 16-player team and coaching staff to play in the prestigious IberCup in Barcelona. And with a little less than a year left to generate funds, Guerrero and Co. have sped up the attack.
Last week, P.V. United held a barbecue at the Driscoll’s corporate campus on Westridge Drive in Watsonville. Guerrero, who works as a senior forecaster for Driscoll’s, said he convinced the berry company to match their final haul from the barbecue.
Additionally, Guerrero said the team will have a fundraising booth at the Strawberry Festival in August. They also have a GoFundMe account set up.
To donate visit, gofundme.com/2018-iber-cup-barcelona-spain-trip.
The total cost to send the entire team? Close to $50,000.
“It’s a lot but we’ve been raising money for a while now,” Guerrero said. “The barbecue was nice. We have to start somewhere.”
Very few players on the team, which is comprised of girls from Santa Cruz County, Silicon Valley and Salinas Valley, have left the country and none have flown across the Atlantic Ocean to see the beauty of Barcelona. Only in photos, videos, television and movies have they laid eyes on Spain.
“I never had the opportunity to do this when I was a kid so I think it would be an incredible experience for the team if we could go,” Guerrero said.
Milpitas resident Gabriella Trejo said her friend from school boasted about her trip to Spain over Snapchat. Unsurprisingly, she was jealous.
“The food looks amazing and the sights look incredible,” Trejo said. “Besides that I don’t really know much. I’d want to go experience that… I didn’t believe when coach said he was trying to get us to Barcelona. I thought it was really extra of him but his goals for us are really high. It’s nice.”
Prunedale resident Chantal Aguirre, who is one of the squad’s captains along with Trejo, echoed her teammate. She doesn’t know much about Barcelona aside from the city’s dominant pro soccer team, powered by Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Aguirre said. “I just know it would be so much fun.”
The IberCup is one of the largest international youth soccer tournaments in the world, hosting championships in Portugal, Scandinavia, Japan and the United States throughout the year.
The fish-out-of-water experience of being in a new country might be overwhelming but the team will not be in over its head when the games start.
P.V. United has steadily moved up the ranks and transformed into one of the powerhouses of the state.
In the spring, they took first place in their league and also finished runner-up in the NorCal state cup. Following its success, P.V. United was moved up from the NorCal Premier level to the ultra-challenging National Premier League. Only the top youth soccer clubs play in the N.P.L., which just last month signed F.C. Barcelona Academy’s U13-U19 teams.
Currently, P.V. United is ranked No. 2 in Northern California and 12th in the nation, according to GotSoccer.com.
“It’s been cool to see us grow over the years,” said Aguirre, who has played for Guerrero for the last five years. “No one really took us seriously in the start. They didn’t really know who we were or what we were about but teams are starting to know us now.”
Unlike most top youth soccer programs around the state, P.V. United does not have several teams or players waiting in the wings. Of course, that means a better chance at playing time but it also means a much smaller pool of players to choose from.
“We have to work for everything. There’s no one there to bail us out,” said Aguirre, an incoming freshman at Aptos High. “There’s no “A”- or “B”- or “C”-team. We’re all we have. “A”-team to “Z”-team, we’re it.”
They also don’t train at the top facilities. P.V. United meets up three days a week at a small field sponsored by Driscoll’s grower, River Valley Farms, in the Aromas foothills. The coaches and parents mow the grass, setup the lines and dig the ditches.
They also have a makeshift locker room in a shed powered by a generator. Inside, Guerrero has donated workout equipment, a white board where he draws up plays, several inspirational quotes draped over the walls and pictures of his players over the years pinned up on a giant cork board.
“It’s not much but it feels like home,” Aguirre said. “I love it here. We have the family feel.”
Trejo commutes from Milpitas for practice, car pooling with the family of twin sisters Jennifer and Yohanna Limon, whom also live in Santa Clara County, on Monday and Wednesday. She said she’s played on several teams in the Silicon Valley over the years but none have had the same feel that P.V. United has.
“This is the only team that I’ve been on that plays with heart,” said Trejo, an incoming freshman at Milpitas High. “You think about it, this community is amazing. All of this stuff comes from donations. These coaches don’t have to be out here doing this but they are. To me, the drive is a very small takeaway from all of this.”
The international trip wouldn’t be a completely new experience for Priscila Yanez, Gisselle Vazquez, Najeli Jimenez and Aguirre. Earlier this month, the quartet traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico to play in the Mexican National Olympics on a team of Mexican-American soccer players born within the United States.
They outplayed dozens of girls at a tryout in Los Angeles to make the team. Guerrero said it was a considerable feat when taking into account the discrepancy of resources between his girls and the competition.
“They compete against big clubs. Clubs that cost $3,000 to register for,” Guerrero said. “For us, we provide a low cost option and we’re still able to compete. It shows how important hard work and dedication are. Playing in that or flying to Barcelona, these types of opportunities aren’t usual for kids on clubs like this. But they have heart. They have that drive of fighting for what they want. When you play with heart a lot of cool stuff can happen.”