When you look at American soccer Twitter, or other various social platforms, you are always confronted with the same trending topics: promotion/ relegation and supporting local soccer. I’m not going to take the time to talk about pro/rel at this moment, but would rather focus on a small but growing campaign for local clubs; the community owned/ operated club model is seen throughout the world but also is developing a strong reputation throughout our nation with clubs like Himmarshee FC, DeKalb County United and Riverside Coras FC. The idea of being community owned varies within each system but stand by a few principles:
Funded by supporters and local/ regional sponsors – By funding operating costs locally, a club can be guaranteed that investment will benefit those in the community.
Voting power to the people – Lower league soccer clubs are registered non-profit organizations. To make sure that the club is always a reflection of the community, paying members will vote on various major decisions; some of these issues range from kit sponsorships and crest designs to where home matches will be played.
Run by supporters – Without the volunteers the club couldn’t exist. They fund the team, sell the tickets, announce the matches, create the content, cheer their hearts out and after the smoke settles,literally, they clean up the stadium.
As I continued to journey further into the depths of local soccer, I began to find an affinity with the concept. Then here was this blessing that the soccer gods laid upon me, my local club was community owned. After speaking with Robert Lopez-Guardado, Riverside Coras FC President, I found out that our club began to sell shares to the community.
We threw it out there to see how the community would respond and to our surprise there were quite a few soccer fans in the community that wanted to participate. It was very encouraging for us to see that the community was interested in becoming a minority owner. We threw out an ad and we got a response. Right now we have about 24-27 minority owners.
Currently steps are in place for Riverside to become a club fully owned community. In their first year of selling shares, five percent of shares were alloted towards community ownership. As the years progress, a certain percentage of extra shares will be sold, allowing community ownership to grow steadily, with less risk to the stability of the club. While there are quite a few community owned models out there, they are all different and focus on fitting to the communities needs first. Riverside is the city of art and innovation, over time those principles will bleed over into Riverside soccer and help create a unique culture, but that growth needs to be guided and that is what Riverside’s community owned model allows for.
I’ve always considered Riverside to be the big small-town. Riverside has 325,000 people and for some reason you always see someone you know. Small businesses remember your name and the restaurants remember your order. The community owned/ operated model fits Riverside perfectly. Steady growth ensures that new voices and ideas have the oppurtunity to impact the system. I can see a system in the future that allows someone to be a Riverside fan as a child and put on that jersey as an adult. Part of that vision involves a club that represents the community to the fullest and Robert was very excited to announce that they are looking into rebranding Riverside Coras FC, for that very purpose.
I would like to mention that we have contemplated rebranding the name a bit. incorporating another name to Riverside, perhaps dropping Coras and adding City or United and really [trying to] representing our community to the fullest.We have a bit of work to do this off-season, then we get look forward to being a fully community owned club. That’s always been our desire, that’s always been in our hearts; to engage with the community, especially these fans that not only support but become minority owners.
The money that is put into the club by the community is only one half of the effort that goes into the club. The volunteers are the second piece to that puzzle. As a sporting fan there are a lot of things we take advantage of at an event. Who cleans up, stocks the bathrooms, or even lets you through the gate; if you’ve been to a lower league soccer match, it was a volunteer. The Coras have around 24 volunteers and about half of those are minority owners as well.
As a volunteer myself, I was interested in how some others may have started with Riverside and I was able to have a conversation with two passionate volunteers who have just started with the program last year, PA announcer James Gutierrez ( @Mesajg on instagram) and Assistant Team Manager Jesus “Frijolito” Ortiz Castro.
James was noticeable early on, as I started supporting the Coras, because he was the voice in the stadium. It wasn’t until I watched the game in the booth that I was able to see how passionate he was for the team. He would gesture and cheer with fervor and immediately, with a straight voice, announce the play.
I’ve never [announced] in the past, I remember the first game of last season and I didn’t say a word till the second half, because I just didn’t know how to get into it. It’s not something I thought about getting into professionally but I do like to do it a lot. A lot of the things that I find pleasing or I like to do, I give it 110%. if that comes out and that’s evident through the way that I [announce] then thats great. Its working, but there’s always room for improvement.
Jesus is everything you want in a volunteer. He is dedicated, passionate and works hard when he’s representing the badge. He joined in October of 2017 and since his second practice has been a huge addition to the staff. He got started by just helping out his roommates, who are the goalkeepers for the Coras, and was able to work his own way on the field. Like everyone involved with Riverside, he loves soccer and this position with the Coras has helped him continue his educational path to become a sports psychologist.
Everyone that participates with Riverside Coras FC has a chance to do more and that’s what is exciting. The saying is “ it takes a community to raise a child” and a part of growing up is becoming a professional. As a community club, I want to see the Coras move not only players through the world soccer system, but professionals as well. We will continue to develop as a group and as individuals, promoting Riverside and Riverside Soccer.