"Don't say it, show it."
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Hello and good morning faithful readers! I've got new reading for you, and this one is a return to New Mexico, one of my favorite places in the country. This is actually the third team in New Mexico I've interviewed, having previously talked with Albuquerque Sol and New Mexico FC. These guys are a little off the typical beaten path in the Land of Enchantment four tourists, like myself.
FC Grande is located in Las Cruces, the second largest city in the state, located close to El Paso, Texas, and a true untapped soccer market. Alexis Ruiz talks about some of that passion, as well as the challenges and opportunities of this unique market. Check it out.
Tell readers of this article a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with FC Grande.
My name is Alexis Ruiz and I'm from Las Cruces, New Mexico. I've been spent just about my whole life in Las Cruces, and I've been playing soccer for fourteen years now. My role at the club is both manager and player. I'm also a part time student at the Dona Ana Community College, majoring in business.
Very cool. How did you come to be a fan of, and playing, soccer?
I grew up around soccer. I would always be at my dad's Sunday league games kicking the ball around. I grew up watching Chivas and the Mexican National Team. After being around the beautiful game for so long I learned to love it.
I started playing soccer when I was seven. I started playing competitively when I was nine with a local club team by the name of Striker FC. SFC was a great club that really brought me closer to the game.
What’s the story behind the founding of FC Grande, and what’s with the choice of name?
FC Grande first started off as a Sunday league team. We were top four in the two seasons we played here in the Mesilla Valley Soccer League.
We decided to take the team to the next level because of all the potential Las Cruces has in soccer. Las Cruces has had many talented players go on and play at the next level. Talents like Edgar Castillo, who played for the US Men's National Team, and Aaron Herrera, who played with the U-20 US Men's National Team in the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup, who have debuted nationally. We believe Las Cruces has many talented players who can play professionally. FC Grande will help develop players and grow the game of soccer in the Las Cruces community.
We had got the idea of FC Grande from the Rio Grande. If you look closely at our logo you can actually see the Rio Grande.
I have spent some time in New Mexico, but all in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. How would you describe Las Cruces as a city, and it's soccer scene, to someone who's never been there, like me?
Las Cruces is a beautiful city, located in the southern part of New Mexico and is the second biggest city in the state. Las Cruces is best known for the Organ Mountains. The Organs are a big part of our culture here. The people here are very friendly. Las Cruces really does love its sports, high school football here is huge. We have one of, if not the biggest, high school football rivalry in the country. It is Las Cruces High School vs Mayfield High School. Attendance reaches as high as 25,000. I believe if we could fill up a stadium for a high school game with 25,000 people then we can do the same for soccer.
The soccer scene is big here, especially youth soccer. The only problem is many of these youth players don't stick to the sport because of the lack of opportunity or lack of interest. FC Grande hopes to change that. We have a handful of soccer fanatics in Las Cruces. I often see locals wearing jerseys of all kinds, whether it be club or international.
Are you guys currently the only team in Las Cruces trying to give players more opportunity to play at a higher level?
No, there are other club teams here Las Cruces that are doing the same. Their focus is more on college soccer, though. FC Grande is shooting for more of a professional route with our players, though a college scholarship is never a bad thing.
Gotcha. There is nothing wrong with a scholarship, but there are other ways forward as a player. You mentioned playing in the Mesilla Valley Soccer League. What's that league like? Is it a pretty decent standard of play? Did you have any major rivals?
There were over 12 to 15 teams in the league and I would day 6 of them were solid. The two seasons that we did play in the Mesilla Valley Soccer League were competitive. Las Cruces has scrambled talent among these teams which makes the league interesting. Our rivals were always Striker FC. Those games were always intense. Both teams were by far top two in the league.
On the leagues website, it looks like there are only six teams in the mix now. What happened?
I personally believe its the lack of opportunity. Most players after high school don't get the opportunity to play at the next level. Usually the players cant afford it or they never get the exposure. They don't have anything to play for so they don't play at all. There really is a lot of talent out here in the Southwest.
Do you feel that stepping up to a higher league will not only encourage players to stick with the game, but encourage other teams in Las Cruces and New Mexico, to step up and create more opportunity?
I do feel that stepping to a high league will encourage the game of soccer in New Mexico. I'll be looking to encourage other smaller cities in New Mexico to do create more opportunity in The Land of Enchantment. New Mexico has a lot of potential in soccer and I feel as a player and a fan it is our job to grow the beautiful game in the States. FC Grande isn't the only high level soccer team in New Mexico. There is also club Albuquerque Sol. I spent a few weeks training with them. The club really gave me a professional feel for the game. Its a great organization that encouraged the start of FC Grande. I mean who wouldn't want to watch a Rio Grande Derby?
Albuquerque Sol were one of my first interviews two years ago. Almost got to interview them in person while I was in Santa Fe for Thanksgiving. Are there any other cities in New Mexico that you think could make a good home for soccer teams looking to provide opportunities to players? I feel like Los Alamos, with that high school field looking at the mountains on one end, and the edge of the mesa on the other, would be perfect.
How did you like New Mexico? So you met Ron Patel? He's a nice guy. His belief in his the club is unreal. I think that cities like Santa Fe, Roswell, Hobbs, Artesia, Taos, Farmington and Los Alamos could very well have their own professional club. I mean a team like Bruk-Bet Termalica Nieciecza in Poland's top league is in a city with a population of 750. If a city of that size can manage a professional club, then so can cities like Los Alamos or Taos.
I've actually never been to Los Alamos but I can only imagine how nice of a setting that is
I didn't get to meet Ron, sadly. But I love New Mexico. It's the only place in the country my wife and I both want to move to. Do you have any idea of what cities or teams might joining you in the UPSL's new Southwest Conference? Or are you the first in, with others hopefully following?
Wow that's really cool. New Mexico is a beautiful state, its landscape really is a sight. If you ever get the chance to come out to Las Cruces be sure to visit Andale's (best mexican food in town), Caliches Sparky's (in Hatch which is a 30 minute drive from Cruces) and Old Mesilla. Maybe you can catch a game if you're ever in town.
We are hoping that teams in Alburquerque and El Paso will join the Southwest Conference. They're two big cities that can easily have one or two teams.
Based on some of the articles I've read about El Paso, they sound like they could have a team for every neighborhood. Going into your debut UPSL season, are there challenges or concerns that you really feel need to be addressed for the team to succeed?
They just about could! El Paso is a big city, soccer is really popular there.
Yes. I would say overall professionalism. We want our players and supporters to feel as if FC Grande is run like an MLS club. Things such as wearing matching attire at training and being heavily involved in our community can help lead us to a successful first season. We've recently partnered up with a local photographer who I think can really help us engage with out supporters. We will be looking into having our games streamed live for those supporters who aren't able to make our games.
I like those ideas. That will go a long way toward helping people perceive the club in a positive light. What are two or three challenges you've encountered in taking this step up, and how have you overcome them?
Raising funds was a tough obstacle. I had created a sponsorship packet for our first tryout and handed it out to local business. I went to over a hundred businesses. I knew that if I kept giving out packets that eventually the club would get support. And after a few weeks, we did. It just goes to show you really can do anything you set your mind to. You just have to work hard and never give up.
The other challenge I faced was a lack of moral support. I surprised a lot of people by deciding to join the UPSL. I overcame the lack of support by keeping a positive mindset. If no one can see the vision, then show them vision. My father would always tell me, "Don't say it, show it." I keep that in the back of my mind. It has helped me overcome many obstacles I've faced.
Were there one or two positive things that happened after you made it clear to people that you wanted to join UPSL?
Yes! My friends started helping me out more. They would do things like promote the teams social media, meet with business owners, and help pass out sponsorship packets.
How important do you feel it is for someone starting a team, or moving an existing team up a level, to not do it alone?
My advice would be to not start up a team alone. If you have a good group of people with the same goals and interests, you can accomplish anything.
As you build your team in preparation for next season, where are you finding your players? Are you looking at college players, or are you trying to find talent in other places, like your old league?
We will be hosting a tryout in December and another one sometime early next year. There we will be getting most of our players. We'll also be reaching out to locals who are playing college soccer to see if they may be interested in playing with us. One thing that we will be focusing on as a club is keeping our talent local. We want to ensure the growth of our local players before anything else. Many players here in Las Cruces have been playing together practically their whole lives. I believe that our chemistry will help build the club moving forward. That's not say we wont be recruiting out of town talent, but the clubs focus is to be heavily involved in the community.
What will you be looking for in potential FC Grande players? Is there a particular type of player or skill set that you're looking for?
The club will be looking for driven, dedicated and hard working players. Players who are seeking opportunity and are looking to take their game to the next level. We aren't really looking for a particular skill in the players.
What kind of characteristics are you hoping define your team and it's playing style next season? A better way to ask this question might be, how do you want people describing your team to friends, based on what they're seeing on the field?
Diligent, professional and passionate.
Let's get into some short questions to wrap things up. What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
FC Barcelona. Lionel Messi is a huge influence on me. I grew up watching him play. He's been in phenomenal form this season. I truly enjoying watching him and Barcelona. I am big fan of the tiki-taka style of play.
So you've kind of answered this question already, but I'll ask it anyway. Who are your favorite players, one past, one present?
Ronaldhino and Lionel Messi. Two Barcelona legends. I'm a big a fan of joga bonito. The Brazilian style of play is like no other.
Any books or podcasts, soccer related or otherwise, that you found helpful and would recommend to the people reading this interview?
The Secret to Success by Eric Thomas is a good read.
If you could meet one person from soccer, past or present, who it be and why?
I would want to meet Lionel Messi. In my opinion, he is the greatest soccer player to ever live. He is one of a kind. I would like to meet him to ask him for advice on how to better my game.
Where can people find you and FC Grande online?
People can find us on our website! Its www.fcgrande.org.
We're also on Twitter and Instagram @FCGrande16.
Last question. What would you say to the person asking you, 'why should I get out there and support a local amateur team, like FC Grande?'
FC Grande will be one heck of a team to watch. We want to be as professional as possible in every aspect. We recently partnered up with a social media specialist to help us grow our supporters group. Our supporters are a big part of our club and we want them to know that.
Alexis, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the content I'm putting out, I'd encourage you to click here to Follow me on Twitter, or here to Like the page on Facebook. Make sure to spread the word by sharing these interviews, telling friends about the blog, those kind of things. I can't accomplish my goal of maximum exposure for all levels of the American Soccer Pyramid without YOU. Until next time, Stay Loyal, Support Local.