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Q&A: MCS – ECFC Salinas Director of Coaching Sergio Herrera

Note: NorCal Premier Soccer regularly sits down with an influential figure in the youth soccer landscape to pick their brain about a variety of different topics that are relevant in the current soccer environment in the United States. For this edition we spoke with Sergio Herrera, the Director of Coaching for Monterey County Soccer – ECFC Salinas. 

NorCal: How did you fall in love with soccer?

Herrera: My dad played somewhat professionally back in Mexico City and kind of floated around the second and third division teams. That’s where I started watching the game. When he came over to the US, he played a little bit with the Earthquakes with Steve Zungul and those guys, way back, way back. More than anything, he just trained there a lot. I just followed in his footsteps and started playing under Cal North back in the day and played on local youth teams before making my way up to the youth national teams and then it just kind of built up from there.

NorCal: How did you get into coaching?

Herrera: Laurie Calloway, who was the first coach for the San Jose Clash, trained me over at De Anza college and invited me out with the Clash. I happened to meet some people there, especially this guy Richard Mussallem, who was the founder of ECFC. He asked me to help him with his niece’s team way back in the day. I was 24. I’ve been coaching ever since, close to 25 years.

NorCal: What’s the background of your club?

Herrera: The club was founded by Richard Mussallem and it was called El Camino Real. There was a little bit of a fallout there with some stuff that the coaches and the board didn’t see eye-to-eye with and Richard wasn’t very happy with the direction it was going so he decided to create a new club, still in Salinas, and we merged with Monterey County Soccer and all the teams from the old club came with us.

NorCal: What is your club hoping to accomplish?

Herrera: We’re just trying to get kids out of the streets. Salinas is a big gang area. We have kids, even current players, all of them are somewhat associated with gangs through their families or friends. When Richard started this, that was the purpose and that was the goal, to get kids off the streets. The community is smaller than people would think as far as the soccer community, but it’s all Latino and everybody has played soccer at some level. It wasn’t very structured back in the day but really the purpose was to get kids involved with playing at an affordable. That was the mission and it still is today.

NorCal: How important is it for some of these kids to have the structure that your club brings and the positive role models it provides?

Herrera: I think it’s everything. We haven’t been around that long but as far as being a structured club with an end goal in mind, the kids and families have picked up on it. At first it was something new and the kids just thought it was a place to go play, just like their Sunday league. But now they see the seriousness in it and they see the pathway. We’ve had a bunch of kids go to the Earthquakes. And we’ve created that pathway through contacting Bruno Costa and Chris Leitch and those guys and they see that there’s a way out. What we’re asking them is to just be accountable. All they have to do is play soccer and go to school and get some respectable grades and things will be looking up eventually, whether that’s through soccer or through school or just by being a good citizen. It’s taken some time but I think that we’re getting there and that we’ve achieved that to some degree, especially because we have former players coming back to coach with us. It’s a great cycle to be honest. (NorCal President) Ben Ziemer was here one day at training and five of the seven coaches were former players of mine.

NorCal: Are you guys involved with anything outside of soccer with these players?

Herrera: The part that people don’t see is that our coaches aren’t paid trainers, they’re all volunteers. We call our kids, pick them up, haul them around, keep them at our houses. More than anything we’re just creating an environment where they feel safe and give them good role models. We help them out with their homework and just mentor them in general. That goes with all of our coaches who are involved because of their family. They may have a kid or a cousin or whoever it is (at the club), but they spend four or five days a week with these kids traveling, housing them, feeding them, and just being a good role model for them. Anything we can do to keep them off the streets.

NorCal: What were the challenges of still fulfilling all of these rolls during the pandemic?

Herrera: Field availability was an issue, just like it was for everybody, but like I said, our coaches are die hard. They would get their kids at parks when people were only allowed to meet in the small pods. A lot of the kids kept in touch with the coaches because of Zoom and everyone was a little bit more flexible in terms of getting together. It wasn’t ideal, but we had a return rate of over 90 percent and more teams that we created during the pandemic.

NorCal: Your club was just named as a boys NPL club. What does this mean for ECFC and how will it impact you guys going forward?

Herrera: Our recognition as a boys NPL club is huge. It allows the kids, especially on the boys side, to see that everything they’ve done, everything they’ve sacrificed makes sense now. They see where their hard work leads to beyond the Earthquakes partnership that we have because not everyone is going to make it to the Earthquakes. But this is something that the community is proud of here. As soon as the news came out on the NorCal website, it was a huge deal in Salinas. We’ve never been recognized for anything really so this is huge, it gives the kids something to be proud of. The parents and everyone in the community was really happy about it.

NorCal: Where do you see the program going in the future? What are your goals?

Herrera: We want to continue the success on the boys side for sure — there’s a never-ending pool of players coming out of the area. We also want to continue to develop our coaches, now they understand why licensing is important. When we first started it was like pulling hair. But we also want to create the same thing for the girls. With the girls we’re a lot more limited because the community is still a little hesitant to steer their girls into playing soccer, but we want to bring the girls to that level. We’ll see where it ends up after that. The NPL is a big deal for us, we’ve been invited to do other things before, but I think right now we’re going about everything slowly but surely. We have goals and we want to accomplish them, but it’s not going to be a sprint.

NorCal: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Herrera: In all reality, I’m just glad for the exposure, especially for our kids and our coaches. Like I said, they’re all volunteers. I think this is great recognition so I want to say how proud I am of the kids and the coaching staff who supported this whole thing. Back in the day some crazy guy named Richard went down there to start this and now we’re on the map. I’m very proud of it.