By Cristina Matamoros
Far away from the glitz and politics of the World Cup in Brazil, the Richmond Sol Soccer League features kids who dream of one day competing in the Cup.
Diego Garcia, who was born in Mexico, started the Richmond league 10 years ago to serve the needs of kids living in the area in and around the East Bay city.
With a background in youth counseling, Garcia seeks to teach his young players leadership, sportsmanship and other valuable life skills through the lens of soccer.
“A lot of these kids come from poverty backgrounds and low-income families. Most of them live with their grandparents or parents who are busy with two jobs or single-parent families. So when they come to the field, they’re free,” says Garcia.
Ixia Perez, one of the players in the league, says Richmond Sol has allowed her to improve her skills and grow as a person: “During the game, my coach expects me to do the best, to never give up and also off the field to be a leader and a good person, and to be committed.”
Garcia also tries to influence the choices his young athletes make well beyond the soccer pitch. Through field trips to colleges, Garcia aims to convince his players of the value of a good education.
“It’s promising for the other kids who are watching these kids and say, ‘If they can make it, I can make it.’ They come from the same background from the neighborhood so that gives them courage to continue with the education and the sport,” Garcia says.
Garcia’s own son, Diego Garcia, will be playing Division II college soccer with San Francisco State next fall. And Diego has bigger plans.
“My dream is to play for Mexico in the World Cup,” he says. “You’re wearing the jersey of where you’re from — the colors. You’re representing everyone else that couldn’t play soccer.”
For now, Diego is happy to help his father coach the younger kids in the league and play soccer … on a field in Richmond.