Moving the ball forward
The Del Rey City Soccer Club takes its game to a new level — the National Premier Soccer League
By Joe Piasecki
Brian Perez wants to put Marina del Rey on the professional soccer map.
President and co-owner of the Del Rey City Soccer Club, Perez has spent the past five years growing the organization from a recreational gathering of FoxSports.com and FoxSoccer.com employees into a thriving network of local amateur squads — the Del Rey City 90 (named for the Marina Freeway), DRC Admiralty (for Admiralty Way), DRC 1965 (the year the harbor was dedicated) and the DRC Argonauts among them.
This year he’s going one bigger: taking the club to the professional level by fielding teams in both the National Premier Soccer League and Women’s Premier Soccer League.
The NPSL is considered the fourth-tier of American men’s soccer, a few notches below Major League Soccer teams such as the L.A. Galaxy but a stepping stone for ambitious players to work their way up the pyramid. There are 57 NPSL-affiliated teams nationwide.
Del Rey City SC will be the first NPSL team in Los Angeles and will compete among nine teams in the league’s West Region Southern Conference, which includes squads representing Las Vegas, San Diego and Orange County. Games are held on Saturday nights to accommodate travel needs.
The WPSL’s level of play is second only to the nine-club National Women’s Soccer League and includes 70 teams nationwide.
“We are Marina del Rey first, Westside Los Angeles second,” said Perez, a Marina del Rey resident since 2006. “I’m hoping the local area will really get into it. I think there’s real potential here.”
But there are also challenges.
Perez, who’s previously used Playa Vista Sports Park as a home field for club play, still needs to find a home stadium for his professional teams. Right now he’s looking all the way to Culver City High School if he can’t swing hosting games at Loyola Marymount University’s Sullivan Field. (Perez expects to draft several NPSL team players from the college squad.)
“The NPSL requires that you have a stadium that seats at least 500 and has a fence around it so you can charge for tickets,” Perez said.
On the business side, survival is a challenge if the team doesn’t take off quickly with soccer fans in Marina del Rey and surrounding Westside communities.
“Once we get settled it’ll be about $10 a ticket — that’s pretty much what all teams do. Do they make money? I don’t think most do, but there are some in the league that get turnouts of 4,000 or 5,000 fans, which is incredible. I think the average attendance is about 1,000,” said Perez, who also has a management role and ownership stake in the NPSL’s San Diego Flash, which has seen several players move on to Major League Soccer play.
Del Rey City SC’s men’s team is set to play its first game March 1, and its WPSL counterpart takes the field in April.
For the past two Saturdays, Perez and Head Coach Jorge Rodriguez, a co-owner of the team who played professionally after being a standout on the LMU varsity squad, have organized combined tryouts for both squads at Redondo Beach Aviation Field. The two met at Fox Sports, where Perez previously ran the computer engineering side of FoxSoccer.com and Rodriguez was director of engineering for FoxSports.com.
NPSL rules prohibit Del Rey City SC from paying players — mainly because the spring/summer league draws a lot of off-season National Collegiate Athletic Assoc. players in the spring and summer — but about 40 men (most Del Rey City SC newcomers) and three women showed up at 7 a.m. on Jan. 25 to compete for one of 16 spots on each team.
For players who aspire to a paycheck, the NPSL or WPSL “is a way to be seen. You’re playing in a national league, and the coaches in the divisions above us, this is where they look for players,” Perez said.
The youngest player on the field was 14-year-old Frankie Mujic, a Marina del Rey native and freshman at Malibu High School who plays on the school’s varsity soccer team. Last summer she scored the more goals than any other player on Del Rey City SC’s adult co-ed amateur squad. Her father, Edi Mujic, was a professional soccer player in Germany and previously ran the amateur FC Playa Vista soccer club, which Perez has taken over in hopes of converting it into an NPSL team next year.
“I’ve been playing soccer every single day of my life since I was four,” said Frankie Mujic, whose ultimate ambition is to play in the exclusive National Women’s Soccer League. “With a coach like my dad, it isn’t just a game, it’s a lifestyle.”
Also on the field was goalkeeper Scott Nalu, 26, who until moving to Los Angeles last year played semi-pro soccer in Michigan. He’s been playing on various Del Rey City SC amateur clubs for about six months.
“I’m very proud to be a part of it,” Nalu said of the club and an invitation by Perez to try out for the NPSL squad. “The level of competition here is much greater than it was back in Detroit — with the warm weather you can play year-round,” Nalu said.
A big advantage of graduating from club-level games to the semi-pros is the switch from short-field seven-on-seven matches to full-turf 11-on-11 squads, WPSL hopeful Colleen Grant said during the Jan. 25 tryout.
“The style of play is different. You have more room for breakaways and to do a lot more passing. It requires a lot more teamwork,” said Grant, 22.
Playing for Del Rey City SC also requires a professional attitude, according to Perez.
“I sort [potential] players by personality first,” Perez said as he watched a scrimmage match during the tryouts. “I don’t want guys who have anger issues in a Del Rey City uniform. I want a team that plays hard, plays fair.”
Del Rey City SC will announce its NPSL and WPSL schedules at delreycity.com.