The Santa Cruz Breakers FC returned to action last week for a second straight season in the United Soccer League Two.
The Breakers FC are the one of the few clubs on the Central Coast that brings semi-professional soccer to its community and showcases the next generation of professional soccer players from the area.
“It’s beneficial for the community,” said Paolo Carbone, a technical director of the Santa Cruz Breakers Academy. “You have a lot of players that have a place to play and be exposed under the lights in front of scouts.”
The team had a strong inaugural season last year and Carbone said they are looking forward to topping that performance by qualifying for the playoffs.
Breakers FC is a direct pathway for talented players, such as Breakers Academy alumni and current players who aspire to play professionally at the Major League Soccer level.
“There was a need there,” Carbone said. “A lot of them don’t have the opportunity to play year around because of college (teams).”
Carbone said if there’s a way to fill in the gap during the spring and summer, this is it. He said it’s important to have the USL2 to help serve kids in Northern California.
A cast of four local players are on the roster, including former Watsonville High standout Anthony Orendain-Holguin, former Cabrillo College player Walmer Martinez and player-coach Ramiro Corrales of Salinas.
Corrales is more famously known to have played for the San Jose Earthquakes. He reached his 300th MLS appearance mark in a match against the Houston Dynamo in 2013, becoming the 21st player in MLS history to hit that mark.
“We want to give a shot to the best players in the county that have talent, commitment and qualities to aspire to be a professional,” Carbone said.
Breakers FC is also bringing back head coach Mike Runeare and assistant coach Aaron Mamula for the season.
According to the USL2 website, the league has proven to be an important stepping stone for top professional soccer players throughout the world.
Since 2010, more than 70 percent of all selections in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft have had USL2 experience, including 66 selections in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft.
Santa Cruz Breakers Academy assistant coach Shane Carew, who helps with the U17 team alongside head coach Zak Ibsen, said the players get to play at a high level and gain more exposure thanks to USL2.
“Now all of a sudden these guys are playing 35 to 40 games a season, which is what we want,” Carew said. “A lot of people talk negatively about the college system, having such a short season, but these leagues enable players to go off and continue to develop in a different environment.”
The USL2, which was formerly the Premier Developmental League, features 74 franchises in four conferences throughout the United States and Canada, including 18 clubs that are owned and operated by a professional club.
The USL2 season is 14 regular season matches long for each team — seven home and seven away games — and provides elite collegiate players the opportunity to see what it is like at a higher level of competition while maintaining their eligibility.
In addition to league play, teams compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as various exhibitions.
The Breakers play in the Western Conference Southwest Division, which is one of the strongest divisions in the league.
They play teams such as FC Golden State Force, San Francisco Glens, Ventura Fusion and Orange County SC, which also have a professional team in the USL Championship League.
Carbone said he was pleased with the level of play during scrimmages against some of those good teams.
Carbone said the goal is go to the playoffs, which they missed by one game last year.
“The competition is very tough, but we just want to include what we did from last year and build on it,” he said.
Up next for the Breakers is road match today against Ventura County Fusion with kickoff slated for 7 p.m.
Editor's Note: This article will be published in the April 10 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.