Central Texas Lobos
One of the fastest growing and exciting regional leagues is the Gulf Coast Premier League. Originally founded at the Louisiana Premier League in 2014, the name was officially changed in 2016 to the GCPL. The league has expanded far beyond the boundaries of Louisiana to now include clubs from Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. This Spotlight focuses on the only Texas member of the league, Central Texas Lobos.
So what's the history of your club?
We began in 1996 in local amateur adult and youth leagues in the Austin area. The club grew out of my work with immigration legal services, and especially with unaccompanied minors in Central Texas. Soccer was a great way to bring these youth from different countries together, many of whom had no immediate family in the area, and integrate them into the community through the game we all love. We have always had a focus on diversity and inclusion as a club. We branded as the Central Texas Lobos in 2016 when we made the jump to the Texas Premier Soccer League.
Pretty intense logo you got there. Why lobos?
As we rebranded, in 2016 we partnered with a local brewery who wanted to spotlight their "Lobo" line of beer. We liked the idea of the lobo/wolf mascot, that promotes a concept of the pack; every individual working together to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. We came up with five naming options that related to the Lobo branding, and "Central Texas Lobos" was selected through a fan vote as the prefered club name. Wile the brewery has since been sold and we no longer maintain that partnership, we will be "Lobos" from here on - it is our identity.
Noticed you have a Lobos bandana available in your shop. First we've ever seen. What's your clubs approach to merchandise?
The bandana is versatile; we have a scarf which has been very popular, but with GCPL we play summer in Texas. So we wanted something appropriate to the games and the heat of Texas in June and July. Our merchandising is mostly designed as things that are fun and inexpensive so that our fans can enjoy them to enhance the gameday atmosphere. It's just stuff we like and hope our fans will too! As we grow in GCPL as a club, we will probably evolve a more strategic merchandising approach. But for now, it's just stuff that our players or fans have said they would like to have.
You play in the GCPL, who has made some news with expansion lately. Can you talk about the league? Strengths and weaknesses?
The GCPL encompasses elite teams from the gulf coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and now Texas. The league now has an affiliated league - the Great Plains Premier League - which will begin a full competitive season in 2020. This is emblematic of the GCPL philosophy and approach that USSF 4th division leagues should be regional. The second underlying core belief of the GCPL is "club over league" meaning that the individual clubs make the league and therefore the league supports them. It's opposite of many others where the league operates above the clubs and dictates down to them. The league is very collaborative; all of the clubs involved support each other because the success of one elevates the rest. Competition is on the field, not off. And the third element to the league is minimum standards for quality of teams including facilities, performance, and stability. With a rare and temporary exceptions, GCPL stadiums/arenas must have controllable ingress, fields larger than 110 X 65 yards (and most are larger) with a FIFA approved surface, and minimum capacity seating. Clubs must maintain web and social media accounts. And a trainer or other medical staff must be available at all matches. There are also requirements for amenities for traveling teams, such as dressing rooms. All of these requirements elevate the level of the game for both the players and the fans: you know what to expect when you play a Gulf Coast team!
You're the only Texas club in the GCPL, any thought to being in a different league?
Before selecting the GCPL in 2017, we researched and spoke with 5 other leagues and weighed all of the options. We determined that if we were going to change leagues at that point, we wanted to make certain it was a permanent move, and not something that we would want to revisit a few years down the line. GCPL was the best fit for Lobos, for reasons stated above among others, and we are extremely pleased with the decision. We have no plans to change; this is a permanent partnership as far as we're concerned. However, we also don't expect to be the "only Texas club" much longer...
What style of play does your club have?
We play what I'd call a defensive, quick wide possession ground game. We build from the back, emphasizing a pressure off the ball, and utilization of the flanks to create attacking opportunities. This season we will add a bit of "Colombian" flair to the tactics with our new coach, Jorge Cruz.
Which players should people know about from your club?
To highlight a few, fans should definitely start with our goalkeeper Blake Lander. He broke his leg in our second game last season, fracturing both tibia and fibula. He's gone through surgeries to have a metal rod and 8 screws inserted and yet has brought himself all the way back in 10 month to play with the team. He'll be a significant part of the team this season and Blake epitomizes the mentality we want our team to display. Local product Jordan "Wichi" Guardado was a conference all-star last season and returns to Lobos this year. Watch him to see an up-and-coming young talent who has come through the Lobo system since high school. Oscar Ramirez is another leader on our team; joining us in 2016 after playing for Salvadoran clubs Fuerte San Francisco and CD Chaguite. He played right back for us all of last season, but this year we have plans to give him a bit more freedom and versatility, so you can expect to see him "unleashed" in 2019. And we are signing a player with experience in Liga MX to reinforce our attack, and we should make that announcement in the next few days!
Soccer is growing rapidly in Texas, why do you think this is happening?
There are lots of reasons, and in some ways it's a larger trend. Soccer is very popular with the younger generation and Texas is younger in general that the nationwide average (34.5 in Texas, 38 for the US as a whole). Texas is also influenced by immigration which brings an ingrained love of the game. Austin in particular is a great example of the convergence of these factors and I see no indication that this will change. In Texas, football is king, but soccer might just be second in the very near future!
Austin recently added multiple clubs from multiple leagues, which will you be rooting for?
Well, Austin FC (MLS) in 2021! Although I do understand the narrative outside of Austin, the view from our club is that Austin FC will be great for soccer in Central Texas and we are excited to see 1st division professional soccer in Austin very soon. We also root for FC Austin Elite in the UWSL, and are supportive of that club and women's soccer generally. We'll let the other mens teams fight it out amongst themselves, without endorsing any one over the others. But I will add that I am excited to see San Antonio Corinthians return to the Texas soccer landscape this year! The Austin / San Antonio rivalry is always great, and when schedules permit I hope you'll see a Lobos v Corinthians match before the year is over.
What are your club's goals for 2019?
Our primary on-field goal is one that we plan to set every year from now on: to win the GCPL championship. We know that's a very challenging goal with the level of competition in our league, but if we're not trying to be the best team in the league then we aren't doing our best for our players and fans. To do that we want to win the western conference, and that starts by defending our home field and going undefeated at Bob Shelton Stadium. We want to increase our gameday attendance, and believe we learned a tremendous amount last season that will help us accomplish that. Hopefully all of our our fans will come out to our home games this year, and bring a friend! We are more fully staffed for the games and this year ALL of our home games will be played at 7:30 pm kick-off under the lights, to avoid the heat. We want to add webcast of our games this season, for our home games and possibly one of our away games, once we get some technical issues resolved. And we want to return to US Open Cup qualifying this season.
Any other projects in 2019 people should watch for?
We have many exciting projects, but primarily the development of our new home venue in south Austin! That will allow us to really focus on building a strong youth program this summer as we head into the fall season. We hope everyone in the 78741-44-47 area codes will keep en eye out for the Youth Academy this summer. And of course, we continue to develop our 3rd division team in El Paraiso, Honduras as they prepare for their third season. Plus we'll have new announcements on our collaboration with CD America's Nido Aguila academy! So it will be a very busy year for us.
Give us one fact people should know about Central Texas Lobos
We strongly oppose "pay-to-play" and will never refuse any player an opportunity because of lack of economic resources. But for that very reason, we depend on support of the fans and community to sustain our programs!
Social media accounts?
Facebook & Twitter @CenTexLobos