Hello everyone, long time, no interview! Despite the long break, I am honored to share this latest interview with you. Camilo Tobacia graciously took time to answer my questions about the model Space United are following, their community involvement initiatives, and professional ambitions. Space United have some of the best and most comprehensive social media channels out there for an amateur team, a great website, and, included in the interview, a short, well made video describing just who they are. I hope you enjoy it, check it out.
Tell me a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Space United FC.
My name is Camilo Tobacia and I am the founder of Space United FC. I am also a former player for Space United - LA and current player for Space United - Seattle.
I am also a former soccer player for the professional team Millonarios FC, former engineer at SpaceX and current engineer at Blue Origin. I was born in Bogota, Colombia and moved to Texas, USA in the early 2000s, where I competed in club soccer and eventually graduated as an Aerospace Engineer from Texas A&M University.
Our amateur football club was founded in Los Angeles in 2014 and a second expansion team was established in Seattle in late 2019. Our sports club is focused on driving soccer development in the United States with s two (2) amateur soccer clubs in Los Angeles and Seattle and future plans for pro level club and academy. Our ‘spaceroots’ clubs are made up of a diverse community of athletes who are also professionals in our nation’s most innovative space companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, Relativity Space, among others
In 2019 we unveiled our community driven program, Inspire Space & Sports (ISS), which focuses on developing relationships with educators and schools districts across the nation to bring STEM and mentorship resources to students -in particular those in underrepresented communities.
What's the origin story of Space United? How did this club come into existence?
Space United was founded in 2014 driving from my unique and invaluable experiences in soccer and engineering, which inspired me to create an organization that unites soccer and academics, to promote meaningful change in society. Space United came about as the realization of my deepest passions, Space & Soccer. Both of these areas have had an incredible positive impact in my life, so I wanted to capture the inspirational forces behind them to create a universal organization that would work to inspire our communities to embrace education and sports.
The initial idea behind the team came while he was working at SpaceX as a Manufacturing Engineer for Dragon Spacecraft. I realized there were many engineers who, like me, had a deep passion and appreciation for soccer, and they too had unique stories of how education and sports played a positive role in their lives.
This was the moment that Space United realized they had a deeper mission than just a sunday league team and instead had the potential to serve as a platform to inspire our communities to embrace education and sports.
In the Spring of 2014 the first team was registered to compete in the SouthBay Sports League in Los Angeles under “SpaceX Football Club”. The team continued growing their roster and level and in 2016 the club was invited to participate in the first ever Association LA Co-ed League presented by Kicks to The Pitch and Adidas. This collaboration gave the team a much broader platform and interest from local soccer and space enthusiasts quickly began growing. As a result of the team’s growth, the roster was opened to include players from other space companies as well as soccer and space enthusiasts. In early 2019 the team officially transitioned to Space United FC and went on to win their first South Bay Sports Championship trophy. In late 2019 I accepted a new engineering role at aerospace company Blue Origin, located in the Seattle area. This opened up the opportunity to expand the ‘spaceroot’ model and a new expansion team was started based in the Seattle area.
That's quite the story for you guys! Based on what you said about your 'spaceroot' model, do you have plans to do this in other cities, where the teams will be led by other people?
It is possible in the future --our lead designer is based out of Florida, near Cape Canaveral, so there is a huge space population that have shown interest in setting up a Florida team. We have also gotten some support from other Aerospace and Space cities around the nation that have asked us "When is our team getting set up in [insert city]!". So, we see the interest and we recognize that this is something for us to plan in the future. However, for the time being, our efforts are being focused to develop the teams in Los Angeles and Seattle, planning for a professional team and our community driven educational program.
You mentioned your community program, Inspire Space & Sports. I know you only started last year, and I'm sure 2020 pumped the brakes on a lot of it, but how did that go? Was it received well by the schools you approached?
2020 has definitely challenged our ability to be on the pitch playing soccer, but, in contrast however, our Inspire Space & Sports (ISS) community program has seen an increase in focus and engagement. Driven by the challenges that the pandemic has brought to education and the limitations of online learning, educators are happy to connect with us as they look for ways to keep their students engaged while studying from home. Many school districts are eager to connect with professionals and mentors to provide a variety of topics to keep their students learning at the same levels that they would in a classroom setting.
Our community driven focus stems directly from my personal experiences as an immigrant from Colombia growing up in the United States. For me and my siblings, my father was a positive influential role model that helped guide our appreciation for an education. However, for many communities, there is a lack of positive support and that is why we are committed to work with young students to provide the mentorship they need to embrace education, play with passion, inspire dreaming and spark their creativity.
So, given our mission to support our community, the 2020 pandemic just helped accelerate our focus in getting a tangible model to support students. As a result, we designed a series of STEM, Soccer & Space modules that we are now taking to students via their online learning and our plans are to transition some of this to modules to classroom settings once it is safe. We have already connected and collaborated with schools in Washington DC, California and Washington, as well as international locations in Colombia and Argentina.
What does the ISS program look like currently? When you're out there, with the kids, mentoring them and providing them with resources, what does that look like?
The introductory module tells the story of how Space United came to existence. It touches on the values of the importance of education as a tool to succeed and how we have used sports to improve our mind sharpness, our leadership and our focus. We take time to answer student's questions and engage in a discussion that pertains to their individual interests. This then expands over a series of interactive sessions, where we are able to focus on more precise topics, all finishing with some soccer drills. Some of our current modules include: The Physics of Soccer in Other Planets, Rocket Technology, Engineering the Future, among others --I am attaching our module brochure for more details.
You've mentioned a couple of times that you're planning on starting a professional side. What prompted the desire to start a professional arm of the club?
We have big plans for the future of the club that also includes the crafting of a professional club. Our desire to start a Pro Team and Academy bagan with this ideas in mind:
How has it been diving into the process of exploring creating a professional side, especially here in the United States, where things are a little more complicated than they are elsewhere?
The whole process has been a learning and fun experience for our team. We get to engineer an idea and bring it to life, while also learning about topics and areas where we did not have as much experience. This project has really opened up the possibilities for us to explore and grow our skills in other areas like marketing, web development, social media management, brand design, and other areas that we typically do not see a lot in engineering. The 2020 pandemic has challenged our ability to be on the pitch, but we decided to take this time to properly craft our idea, reach out to our community and polish a more precise plan. Ultimately all endeavors come with challenges and difficulties, but perseverance is what eventually creates success stories. We believe our team brings incredible ideas and value from their professional experiences in sports and space exploration, and is from that passion and desire that we draw to continue driving our plan forward.
As you look towards one day having a pro team, are you settled on a city to base it in, or is that TBD? There are a few places you don't have a team in yet that make sense from a synergy perspective. Houston and Cape Canaveral come to mind.
The United States has some incredible soccer markets in very interesting metro areas. I think you are right in highlighting areas like Texas or Florida, where there has been great growth for the sport. Ultimately those areas may be great areas for our 'spaceroots' squads. Presently, there are also great pockets of opportunity in the areas where we already have soccer presence, particularly in the Pacific Northwest --with that in mind, the PNW is an area we are looking very closely at as the place that would be the home for our pro efforts.
Other than STEM and soccer, do you have any particular plans or styles of play in mind for an academy team?
Our front office members had the amazing experience of growing up playing competitive youth soccer with professional clubs in South America, particularly in Colombia and Argentina. From those experiences, we draw inspiration in the style of play and grit we want to see in the future of the club. We follow closely the "Copa Libertadores de Ámerica" and the leagues from Argentina and Colombia to continue bringing those ideas that we believe can be successful in the USA. In addition, we have partnered with an amazing youth academy coach, Fabian Tobacia from Bogotá, Colombia who has had over 6 years of invaluable experience coaching at the professional level in clubs like Independiente Santa Fe and FC Porto.
So, I think we are definitely drawing from those personal experiences to shape the future of our academy and playing styles.
As we begin wrapping this up, where do you hope to see the club as a whole in 5 years?
In 5 years time we want to be contributing to the growth of soccer in the United States and competing professionally at a league like NISA. By then we also want to have an established youth soccer academy that also provides sports and education opportunities for our community, especially those communities with limited resources. We want to continue developing our amateur 'spaceroots' clubs in Los Angeles and Seattle, and look at opportunities in other cities where we can take this model, so that more professionals have a space where they can play competitively. On the education front, we also want to foster and create more relationships with school districts across the country, to continue taking our STEM & Sports modules so that more young minds get inspired by a future of exploration.
Where can people find out more about you and the club online?
Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Facebook | LinkedIn | Twitch.tv | spaceutd.com
What would you say to someone who asks you 'why should I support an amateur club like Space United?'
Space United began with myself and my 3 siblings, growing up with humble beginnings in South America- It began with our dad who sparked our curiosity for engineering and a simple soccer ball that opened unlimited possibilities. With soccer and education, our minds and bodies were active with positive purpose. They were such an incredible combination with an even stronger community support, that even in life’s hardships, we could rely on the learned skills of teamwork, resilience, perseverance and confidence to keep moving forward. For us, soccer and education played a major role in helping us reach our dreams of building rockets!
We hope our supporters identify with our unique, universal story because we are a team that represents grit, resourcefulness and perseverance. We stand to inspire people to fully enjoy the passion of soccer and spark interest in education so that we can all have basic opportunities to contribute to our future and our world. We are here for the community and the next generation, and we stand for who they are and who they have the potential to become. Lastly, we all need to be inspired, and what better way than with Space & Soccer -humanity's greatest and most inspirational forces!