first_imgIt is past 10 p.m. on a Thursday night and the sound of cleats striking the grass, the sight of soccer balls arched into the air and the bright lights high in the sky bring Cromwell Field to life.Trevor Sochoki | Daily TrojanThis is the men’s club soccer team, the highest level for male footballers at USC because there is no Division I men’s team at the University. Team members say not many students know about it, and even fewer come to their games, but just playing a sport they love competitively is worth the time.USC used to field a Division I men’s soccer team, but it was removed following the 1980 season and relegated to a club program.“Ever since then, it’s been a real struggle coming back because of Title IX,” said Jonathan Montesdeoca, the Vice President of the club last semester, referring to the 1972 law that assured equal treatment and benefits to NCAA athletes regardless of gender.Men’s soccer wasn’t the only sport that was dropped by USC in the 1980s and 1990s; men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s rowing, men’s cross country, sailing and skiing were either eliminated or became club sports due to factors including lack of finances, facilities and participation, according to a USC spokesperson.“I definitely wish people paid more attention to us,” Montesdeoca said. “Club sports aren’t really given much attention in general.”As far as club sports go, however, men’s soccer has arguably taken the biggest step forward. Over the summer, the team traveled to Beijing to participate in the inaugural World Elite University Football Tournament, which hosted college teams from around the world for a competition. USC was the only representative from the United States, competing in the “second group” with Oxford, Peking University and Renmin University.The Trojans wound up winning first place in their group, but just participating in the tournament — and being the first club team from USC to compete internationally — warranted acknowledgment.“It’s very significant,” head coach Adam Gootnick said. “I’ve been in this program for six years now, and we’ve never gone internationally or even talked about it. To go international and play and compete on another level and win games is a next step in the process of becoming the best we could possibly become.”Montesdeoca said the team was offered a spot in the tournament “out of the blue,” with the organizers putting together a “cultural exchange event.” In addition to playing in the competition, the team toured Beijing, visiting the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace and Tiananmen Square.“Beijing was an incredible experience, not only to play in another country but to play in a country on the other side of the world that is so culturally different,” Gootnick said.Ruben España, a senior on the team, also reflected positively on the experience.“As a team, we really bonded and met interesting people over there, guys from different teams, different countries, nationalities,” España said.The team came back from China with another accolade to add to a string of recent successes — between 2011 and 2014, the club soccer team advanced to the semifinals or further in either a regional or national tournament each year. The team competes in the California Collegiate Club Soccer League of the West Coast Soccer Association, with the goal of the fall season being to earn a spot in the Championship Division of the NIRSA National Championships.The team this year consists of 26 players — out of the 90 or so hopefuls who tried out — a mix of players who transferred from Division I, II or III schools and pure walk-ons. Some players had offers from schools where men’s soccer was a varsity sport, but still chose to attend USC.España was in discussions with Amherst College in Massachusetts. Stuart Young, a junior, was in talks with the University of La Verne, which is near Los Angeles. But he chose USC instead, and despite not having the option to play soccer at the varsity level, it was worth it.“This is a very good in-between between [attending a top university] and playing Division I, which is more of a job,” Young said. “They play every day, sometimes twice a day. For us, we get just the right amount, which is 2-3 practices a week. Our team is very close because it’s the right amount of soccer and team bonding. It’s the right environment for our team to grow.”The mix of skilled former recruits with students just looking to play soccer provides an assorted roster for Gootnick, a USC alum in his first season as head coach.“We have a very diverse group of people who come from all different backgrounds, and even some international players, all way from freshman to senior,” Gootnick said. “Everyone adds different value to the team, whether that be personality, focus, left foot or right foot, in the air, offensive or defensive. There’s so many different tools a soccer player can have, and my job as a coach is to utilize them.”Players agree that the experience and the environment make the time spent worthwhile. Still, the downsides of not being a Division I team can be frustrating. The team does not draw well at the few home games it has each season. This year, it has three, but in the past, it had been relegated to one or two. According to Montesdeoca, the team also had to move from playing its games on McAllister Field — home of the Division I women’s soccer team — to the less-preferred turf of Cromwell Field. A spokesperson for the Recreational Club Council, which oversees USC club sports, noted that McAlister Field is run by USC Athletics and that RCC has no control over allocating the field to its clubs.Games have also been canceled due to “scheduling conflicts,” Montesdeoca said. Before one game, the field wasn’t even open, and the team had to call DPS officers to unlock the gates. There, players found that the goals were still locked together and the field lines weren’t clear, forcing them to use cones instead. In another instance, corner flags were missing for a game.“We just want things ready for a game,” Montesdeoca said. “It’s a lack of professionalism.”Stuart added that the issues were “embarrassing” to him.“USC is a very prestigious school,” he said. “When we show up to games and we don’t have corner flags or proper lines set up, it makes us look very amateurish.”The RCC spokesperson said that club sports in general are of low priority for the school administration and there is a lack of “proper resources.”Funding can also be an issue, though Montesdeoca pointed out that the RCC paid for a vast majority of the team’s trip to Beijing in addition to providing contingency funds for new uniforms. They have to collect money and gain attention by relying on sponsorships and other creative means, such as having a portion of the Trojan Marching Band play at a game to attract fans. RCC provides some funding, but overall the financial burden falls on the team. This includes tryout dues and a $360 membership fee — up from $300 from last year, in part to cover uniforms and practice jerseys.Montesdeoca said the ultimate goal for the club is to be a basis for a Division I men’s soccer team, though he has explored other options such as forming a Premier Development League team, which competes in the third-tier of professional soccer in the country.There are more than enough Division I sports to go around at USC, so perhaps the lack of a men’s soccer team goes unnoticed by a majority of students. But the fanfare and attention is not why members of the club team dedicate late nights to practicing; rather, it’s the chance to keep playing the game they love.“The soccer alone is worth it,” España said. “Sure, nobody shows up to our games, but we’re here for the soccer, we’re here for each other and we’re here for the experience. Honestly, this is a great way for us to do what we love, de-stress and just have fun.”Correction: This article previously stated that Jonathan Montesdeoca is the Vice President of the club. He was the Vice President last semester. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.last_img