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Global Aug 25, 2012

Latino community makes strong showing at PWSI Toys for Tots tournament

By Roger Gonzalez

As the 2012 PWSI Toys for Tots tournament kicked off in Prince William County, Va. on Saturday, fans braved rainy conditions to cheer on exciting preseason soccer on the fields. But aside from the scores and statistics, there was another story taking place at the tournament.

The Hispanic community in the state of Virginia has dramatically increased in size in recent years, yet the growth of participation by young Latino players in organized travel soccer has not grown at the same rate. Many blame the financial commitment required in the “pay to play” youth system most prevalent in elite youth soccer here.

But talent knows no income level, and many believe tapping into the soccer-mad Latino community in the USA is the only way the nation will ever have a chance at becoming a world soccer power.

Clubs like Toys for Tots host Prince William Soccer, Inc. put their money where their dreams are, so to speak, in the form of offering scholarships to help ensure committed and talented players of all backgrounds have an opportunity to succeed. An in the affluent Northern Virginia suburbs, many of these scholarships help young members of the Latino community ensure their young dreamers have access to the primary youth development system here.

The growth of Latino players in the United States can be seen at the highest level, with so many players of Hispanic descent on the United States Men’s National Team. With so many of these young athletes now getting into the travel scene, another future wave of Hispanic talent appears to be on its way to represent the red, white and blue of USA. Look no further than than California-born Michael Orozco Fiscal, who plays professionally in Mexico and just scored the winning goal in the USMNT’s first-ever win on Mexican soil over their southern rivals — and recent Olympic gold medalists — earlier this month.

When glancing around at the teams and fans at the opening day of the Toys for Tots Tournament, a large Hispanic community was evident and people noticed, such as Fabian Vega, a coach for PWSI. Vega, who is from Peru, played for his country’s national team, but has lived in the United States for many years.

As a Hispanic, he stressed the importance of soccer in his life and just how great it is to have the Latino community take part in the event.

“Since this area is very diverse with different ethic groups, I think the Latino community here in Northern Virginia is great,” said Vega, who played pro soccer in the United States, Peru and El Salvador.

“As coaches that get hired and that are Latino, [we] can help out these parents and these kids understand what benefits the club atmosphere can give to these kids.”

The Latino parents are having a blast.

“We are having a great time,” said Atilio Contreras, a father who came to watch his son play for Arlington Rangers White in U-11 play. “The boy comes to play, we come to be with him and see him play.

“There are a lot of Latinos [here]. I think it is a lot of fun, we have a good time.”

Vega stressed the importance of helping those Latinos who may not have the finances to provide the opportunity to pay for their children to play, stating that increasing the scholarships available would only help the sport grow.

One of the main reasons Vega feels that it would grow is because of the massive talent many of the Latino players bring.

“Obviously, in terms of myself being a former pro player, it’s a system where it brings a lot of joy, a lot of creativity, which goes a long way when it comes to everyday life,” said Vega of the Latino soccer style. “Not only just creativity, but just having some passion and taking some discipline, [which translate] in life…It’s a good little mix.”

That could be seen in his team’s early game today, as PWSI Courage 98 Red (Va.) took on VYS Eagles Red (Va.) this morning.

“The team that we played this morning, all of them were Latino,” he said. “On my team, we have about four players that are Latino. In our club alone, there is really big diversity.”