IMPERIAL VALLEYÂ â€”Â Interest inÂ soccer in the Imperial Valley has grown over the last ten years mirroring the increasing popularity of the sport in the United States. As awareness has grown, so has the level of play, as Valley-based soccer coaches have now earned their coaching licenses and created travel teams to compete in the highest levels of competitive youth soccer throughout California.
The Imperial Valley United Futbol club, led by coach Robert Osoria, is one of those clubs.Â
“I never would have imagined how rapid the growth of competitive soccer would be here in the Imperial Valley since we started this club,” said Osoria, now IV United director of coaching, on the growth of competitive travel soccer in Imperial Valley.Â
His coaching career began in 2009 as Osoria coached a local recreational soccer team. After a successful season locally, he and the parents of other players from the team talked about possibly taking the team to tournaments beyond the Valley. After multiple nods of approval, the seeds were planted for what has become IV United Futbol club, one of the premier travel clubs based in the Valley.Â
It was a vision and a goal set forth by Osoria, IV United’s current 2005 boys head coach, who began this journey simply as a father coaching his daughter and niece in a local recreational league in the 2009 season. In what began as a family bonding activity, Osoria and parents of the players of the 2009 recreational squad stayed in touch after their successful season. Osoria would soon pitch the idea of sending the team to tournaments outside the Valley. The parents were all in.Â
One such parent, Monica Buford, whose son Peter has worked with Coach Osoria since he was old enough to play recreational soccer, has seen first hand the positive effect of the IV United Futbol Club.
“My son Peter is where he is at right now because of Coach Robert. He had been Peterâ€™s only coach for over six years and he has provided this outlet for my son,” said Buford.
Â As the team grew to become a competitive travel team, Peter did as well, both in size and skill, along with many on the United squad. After six years of playing for the Osoria-coached soccer squad, Peter moved to San Diego, where he has continued playing the sport he loves.Â Osoria’s coaching approach has continued to help Peter on his competitive soccer journey.
“Robert takes these boys to the next level. Teaching them the universal soccer vocabulary has helped my son adapt to his new team on the flight 2 level,” Buford said.Â Peter not only learned well, but enjoyed his time under Osoria as well.
“My favorite memory is making really good friends both on and off the field,” said Peter. Â
“He not only teaches these kids amazing soccer skills, but life skills as well,” agreed Buford.Â
“His speeches and prayers before every game remind the players of why they are where they are; God, hard work, dedication, and love of the game,” she said.
Initially, since there was no sanctioning body in the Imperial Valley, IV United Futbol aligned themselves with Chula Vista F.C. for the first year of competitive play, and finished in second place of their flight division. With help from Chula Vista F.C., Osoria and crew registered the following year under their own umbrella, under the name Imperial Valley Premier F.C. The close relationship between Chula Vista and IV United continues to this day. Â
“One of the reasons for starting this was for the demographic of girls that really liked soccer, but after the age of 14 there was nothing going on locally,” said Osoria.Â
Through competing in top level leagues and tournaments throughout California, the IV United Futbol club has helped many kids with a love for soccer develop and put their skills on display in front of college scouts. Several former Osoria-coached and IV United players have continued playing at the college level and returned to give back to the Imperial Valley community with donating their time by helping coach youth teams.Â
Paulina Pantoja, a member of the IV Pumas Premier FC squad that started as a recreational league team back in 2009, was inspired to become a soccer coach from her time spent under the IV United Futbol Club umbrella.Â
For Pantoja, her love for soccer began as a six-year-old watching with her father and grandfather as they viewed soccer games on television.Â
“I started watching soccer games with them and it really interested me, so I asked my father if he could put me on a soccer team because I wanted to learn how to play,” said Pantoja.Â
Her father found a local team for her to join, although she would be the only girl playing among boys. As she continued playing, Pantoja eventually found herself on an all-girls recreational squad coached by Osoria. And that squad eventually became one of the first IV United Futbol Club travel teams.Â
“Robert is the type of coach that every soccer player should have. He’s the type of coach that doesn’t really care about winning or losing. His main focus is his players and getting them to the highest level of soccer that he possibly can,” said Pantoja.Â
Now under their official team title, the IV United Futbol Club has merged with the IV Geckos, as the Gecko leadership turned their focus to forming a much more competitive soccer recreational league.Â
“If there is one thing I would like to convey to parents and to the players, it’s not to settle for mediocrity,â€ emphasized Osoria.
â€œParents and players should be striving for a positive playing environment. Coaches should be striving to further their education in soccer. It makes the Valley better,â€ he said.