By Rachel Singer
It’s not necessarily true that Cinderella wore a glass slipper.
Last year in Santa Clarita, she wore soccer cleats.
She didn’t waltz around a polished dance floor.
This time, she showed her moves on a turf field.
It was an unlikely fairytale.
In November of 2010, I was shopping for indoor soccer shoes at Planet Soccer in Old Town Newhall. The owner, Carlos Marroquin, approached me and asked if I would like to be the “2011 Director of Operations” for his Pro/Am Women’s soccer team, the Santa Clarita Blue Heat.
Huh? What is the Blue Heat and more importantly what does a Director of Operations do? Apparently buying lime green and purple soccer shoes propelled me to the top of the candidate list.
With his fearless grin, Carlos (pictured at right) handed me a very large Fed Ex box, 3 notebooks and told me to read everything and learn it all.
A tad daunting to say the least. The notebooks were 2” thick and covered everything from player registration; to game day responsibilities; to League minimum standards.
The first thing I learned was that USL W-League stands for United Soccer League-Women’s League and is the 2nd level of Pro/Am women’s soccer in the country. There are 27 teams within the three conferences in the United States.
Good grief, this was the big time.
In the span of one week I had business cards, so it was official and within a few short weeks, I had Amanda, Director of the USL W-Leagues on speed dial.
I was put in touch with Dustin Cleaver, the Blue Heat Team Advisor, who gave me this “low down” on the team. He shared,
“The Ventura Fusion, part of the USL-PDL (Premier Development League) the top level of men’s amateur soccer in the USA, had the territorial rights for the this entire area. In 2009, I was the middle person in introducing Carlos to the owner of Fusion to finalize the sale and rights of transfer. Currently Fusion owns the mens rights for this area and Carlos owns the women’s.”
Purchasing the rights to a Pro/Am soccer team is a huge financial, emotional and logistical undertaking. How did Carlos get to this stage of his life and the foremost question on my mind…. how did he convince his wife Dora to go along with it?
Most of the teams in the W-League Western Conference have men’s professional teams backing them with big money and sponsors. The Blue Heat is a “family business” run by a small staff of volunteers and funded by a few sponsors. But we are always looking…..
The Urban Dictionary says “passion is when you put more energy into something than is required to do it. It is more than just enthusiasm or excitement, passion is ambition that is materialized into action…….”
Carlos Marroquin is a passionate man. Passion for his family, church, community and the sport of soccer.
He came to the United States on April 21,1990, from Guatemala City, Guatemala. “I played for the U-17 team in my country, then went to Italy and played from 1987 to 1990 and finally to UCLA where I played from 1990-1992.”
“My love for soccer was forever. My pillow was my soccer ball.”
Summer of 2010 was hot, but the inaugural season of the Blue Heat was not. Invariably, as with all new endeavors , it takes time to get all the kinks ironed out. The Blue Heat came in second to last place. After the lackluster season, which was invaluable for the learning opportunities, there was a coaching and staff change.
It was during this period, that I walked into Planet Soccer looking for shoes.
While I immersed myself in Operations, Carlos was a man on a mission. A recruiting mission. He was determined to bring quality superstar players to the 2011 Blue Heat. “It was all about team pride and community pride,” Carlos recalled.
The Blue Heat paired up with the Santa Clarita Food Pantry and launched the “Blue Boxes for Blue Heat” campaign. Soccer fans could donate 5 boxes of macaroni and cheese in exchange for one opening day game ticket. Needless to say, this was wildly successful for both the fans and the SCV Food Pantry.
May 22, 2011 was a brisk, breezy evening, but tension, nerves and excitement warmed the locker room at Valencia High School as the Blue Heat amped up for their opening game against the Victoria Highlanders from Canada.
In the seventh minute of play, the Blue Heat scored on a breakaway goal and never looked back. They beat the Highlanders 2-1. We didn’t know it then, but this was only the beginning.
Game after game during the 10 week season, Blue Heat continued their stellar play. The crowds would sing along with the DJ as he played “the Heat is On” after every goal. It was a mantra.
The USL W-League took note, KHTS AM 1220 took note, ESPN took note. The “little team that could” was on the map.
July 17, 2011 was the final game for the undefeated Santa Clarita Blue Heat. A win or tie against the Pali Blues would put the team in first place in the entire Western Conference unseating the long standing champions, the Vancouver Whitecaps.
When Barry McKeever, up in the press box, counted down the final seconds of play, the hometown crowd went wild. 1-1 tie. The Blue Heat did it.
Because, the Western Conference does not have playoffs, the first and second place teams had to have one last game to see who would go to Seattle for the League Championship game. With six starters out with injuries, the Blue Heat held their own until the end. The game ended in a 4-3 loss against the Whitecaps.
There was no sadness in the locker room that night, just exhaustion and elation that this team, the proverbial Bad News Bears, pulled together and had an unbelievable season.
In less than one month, the Blue Heat will play their first game of the 2012 season. They will take the pitch against the Pali Blues at Valencia High School at 5:00p.m. on May 20th. With our coach, Charles Martinez at the helm, fingers crossed that we will hear “the Heat is On” over the loudspeakers and cheer until we are hoarse.
Blue Heat’s 2011 captain, Edite Fernandes, professional player for the Portugal National Team will be returning for 2012, along with Cynthia Jacobo, the unstoppable goalkeeper who won the USL W-Leagues, “Goalkeeper of the Year.” (Edite and Cynthia, pictured at right)
The 2012 Blue Heat roster is a Who’s Who in the world of women’s soccer. All the talent will be put to use, especially when the Blue Heat travels north to take on Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe and their team, the Seattle Sounders Women.
Hope Solo will not be dancing with any stars during this match up. The only dance she will be doing is the quick step as she tries to stop the attack on her net.
The Santa Clarita Blue Heat is staffed by a team of volunteers.
- Luti Neveleff, Assistant Coach
- Alejandro Carrero, Goalkeeper Coach
- Nils Lawrence,Media Master,
- Dr. Brian Wildemuth, Team Doctor
- Claudia Martinez, Press Relations
- Dora, Melissa, Kevin and Russell Marroquin, Ticket and Merchandise sales
- Renee Lopez, Accounting
- Dustin Cleaver, Team Advisor
- Carlos Alberto, Equipment
- Rachel Singer, Director of Operations
We are a dedicated crew who give our time and commitment for the love of this team.
The little boy from Guatemala who slept with his head on a soccer ball, now sleeps next to three USL W-League trophies immortalizing his team’s incredible accomplishments.
The American dream is alive and well in Santa Clarita.
Please check out our website at scblueheat.com