Working Your Way Up

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For amatuer soccer players, signing a professional contract is the next step. That step is often hard to reach for most players, especially in the American soccer pyramid. If you don’t belong to a development academy, MLS academy or don’t place among the best collegiate players, the path to professional soccer can be the biggest leap for a talented player. But for those players who grind daily and continue to evolve their game, the professional opportunity may present itself.

Recently the Las Vegas Lights of the USL Championship announced the signings of multiple players from the lower leagues. I had to opportunity to interview Eric Gonzalez, who played for Cal FC of the UPSL and the Riverside Coras FC of the NPSL, about signing a professional contract with the Lights.

How does it feel to sign a professional contract with the Las Vegas Lights FC?

It's an amazing feeling to sign a professional contract with the Las Vegas Lights FC.  I'm so happy to be here and thankful that they gave me this opportunity to achieve this dream I've had since I first started playing soccer at four years old.  I'm ready to give it my all for the club and this city!

Eric started the 2018 season with the Coras where he played as a center midfielder. His vision and passing ability allowed him to help control tempo and find the right penetrating pass. He became a staple with the Coras and played majority of the matches. Once the fall season hit, Eric moved to Cal FC where he was deputized as the starting left back and played every match. Cal FC went on to dominate the UPSL SoCal North Pro Premier and Eric’s passing prowess helped his club earn result after result.

How has your previous play in the UPSL and NPSL helped you prepare for this moment?

My previous play in the UPSL and NPSL really helped me get to this point in my career. I was just playing in the UPSL with Cal FC before coming to Vegas and it helped me earn playing time against great competition. Basically, these two leagues gave me opportunities in playing at a high level.  Both of these leagues are great leagues to be playing in if you're looking to play at the professional level.

Not only did Eric Gonzalez play, he also coached at Jurupa Valley High School and helped his kids understand high level soccer and the commitment it takes to one day play professional. His kids were well drilled and he always focused on teaching his team in the moment. While his Varsity and JV squads earned results, they also learned various nuances of playing the game. If a player made a mistake in a game, he would coach them and motivate them to play properly.

You also coached High School soccer, what message have you relayed to your kids?

Unfortunately, I had to let go of my High School team as I made my way over here, but one thing I've always told them is to never give up on their dreams, whatever that may be.  If they have these dreams, then through: hard work, dedication, and sacrifice they can achieve their dreams. Most importantly I told them to never give up.

This next step in Eric’s career is a big one, that can hopefully propel him on to the next journey. His career progress should be an example that lower league clubs strive for. Sure, the ultimate goal for any club is to one day move up in this broken U.S. Soccer pyramid, but, until that day, moving players and personnel up should be the main priority. A move like Eric’s shows the importance of lower league clubs and that not only has me excited, but Eric as well.

What excites you most about living in Las Vegas and playing in the USL Championship?

So far, I've been really excited about the different types of food here. I live 5-10 minutes from Chinatown where they have a different variety of Asian cuisines that I've been trying before preseason started. I'm also really excited to be playing in the USL Championship. I'm looking forward to the competition, the new experiences of being in the USL, and getting an opportunity to get better on this great team!

The lower tier leagues have continued to show their ability to prepare players for the next level. Whether it’s domestic or abroad there are many opportunities available for hard working and talented players like Eric Gonzalez. I look forward to seeing the progress of his career and the progress of the other players, like Eric,  who continue to move into the professional ranks.

- Steven Ramirez