Footy Americano interviews Yakima United founder and head coach Hector Vega on soccer life in the valley of the hops and the Hoppers.
Please, tell who you are, what it is that you do at Yakima United FC, and elaborate a bit on where your club is located and why it is in that location.
I am Hector Vega, the President and Head Coach of Yakima United FC. Yakima United is located in the heart of the Yakima Valley. Our Valley has a long standing tradition in the sport and has played a major role in the history of soccer in our state. For 15 years Yakima was home to one of the longest tenured semi-professional Men’s Soccer Teams in the Northwest (the Yakima Reds). I was involved in starting up the Yakima Reds and continued with the club in different aspects of its operation for the 15 years they were here in the Valley. Nine years after the dissolving of Yakima Reds we were given the opportunity to participate in the EPLWA, and bring back Men’s semi-professional soccer to Yakima. We wanted a fresh start with a fresh logo and name. We had formed Yakima United FC in 2010, which was an elite team that participated in tournaments around the state and decided to expand and turn Yakima United FC into the team it is now, playing in the EPLWA and the newly formed NWPL.
I understand that playing the role you do, even with a side that is not professional, can be very time consuming. What is it that drives you?
When I moved to Yakima in 1984 the soccer community took me in. I was one of the elite players in the community and was disappointed that there was really nothing other than recreational soccer available in our area at that time. The talent in our valley is remarkable, and I wanted to be a part of starting up something that gave the elite player a competitive avenue for local talent to continue to improve by playing at a high level, while providing an exciting and entertaining match-day experience for our supporters and soccer enthusiasts in our area. It drives me to see players excel and have the opportunity to further their soccer careers. I want to give the valley an experience that was not available for me when I was that age. I view the soccer community as my family, and I have a strong bond with the players I have coached over the years. I want the best for each of my players. I want to give them the opportunity to showcase their talent.
Is there some sort of story you like to tell of how your club was founded? Is there any history you’d like to share?As I have stated, Yakima United is located in the heart of the Yakima Valley. Our Valley has a long standing tradition in the sport and has played a major role in the history of soccer in our state. For 15 years Yakima was home to one of the longest tenured semi-professional Men’s Soccer Teams in the Northwest (the Yakima Reds). I was involved in starting up the Yakima Reds and continued with the club in different aspects of its operation for the 15 years they were here in the Valley. Nine years after the dissolving of Yakima Reds we were given the opportunity to participate in the EPLWA, and bring back Men’s semi-professional soccer to Yakima. We wanted a fresh start with a fresh logo and name. We had formed Yakima United FC in 2010, which was an elite team that participated in tournaments around the state and decided to expand and turn Yakima United FC into the team it is now, playing in the EPLWA and the newly formed NWPL.
This may seem a very trivial question: Why start an amateur club? What I mean in saying this is what are your motives and ambitions?
Why not? Professional teams are quite expensive to run, in fact some semi-professional teams are quite expensive as well. There are already Professional teams in Washington, some doing quite well, some struggling. We have the talent and ability here in our valley to play at the semi-professional level. Through the EPLWA we now have the avenue to pursue our dreams and put the talent on the field for our community to see and support. We want our players to be showcased, and represented throughout the State of Washington while keeping the cost under wraps.
I am aware that, in Washington state, you have some options available in choosing a league to join. Aside from other Washington based amateur leagues, you also had the option of joining an established national league. What is it that made the Evergreen Premier League of Washington your pick? Can you say what was it that the EPLWA had to offer that truly pulled you in?
To reiterate, I was involved in the Yakima Reds Soccer Club for 15 years. The Yakima Reds played in the PDL under the United Soccer Leagues. This league was a great league to be a part of, and offered us many opportunities. We also had youth teams that played in the Super Y-League. The one thing about the USL was the expenses were high. It is hard for a club to bring in enough revenue to keep the team in the black unless you have a large fan base. We struggled keeping it afloat for 15 years. When we heard about the EPLWA we were so excited to be able to play at the same level (semi-professional) but have it based in our own state of Washington. The expenses are not as high since the travel is just within Washington. The EPLWA offers our players so many opportunities to be showcased. EPLWA has a great support staff, and they are in the business to “cultivate “football club” culture while providing opportunities for coaches, owners, supporters, players and towns to enjoy the sport and all of the community-building it can bring.” It is a perfect match for Yakima United FC and our Yakima Community.
Is there any wisdom you could say to the soccer fan who says to themselves, “I should start a soccer team,”?Do your homework first. There are many leagues out there and make sure you pick the one that suits your needs and budget. You need to make sure you have great support in your community. It is a tough road, and you must have the support of businesses, youth clubs, players and family to make it all work. Make sure you have that support group in place before starting your team. Be sure you talk to the business owners in your community to see if you have the financial support as well.
Winning games and in the end championships is, of course, the dream of any club. What is it that you truly hope to accomplish with Yakima United? That is, what image will your club hold down the road?
Of course our goal is to win games and championships. The main thing we want to accomplish with Yakima United is to give our valley players the opportunity to play at this elite level. To train and compete at a semi-professional level around our beautiful state of Washington. We want our players to be competitive, and have experiences that they would not have otherwise. Our team consists of players born and raised in our valley, some returning home from their respective colleges to further their development and represent their city. Our team is a little different than others because we do not have the big Universities in our back yard to draw players from. However, we have been quite competitive and successful in giving some very exciting games to our fans and community.
Often seen is the state of Washington being dubbed “The Soccer State”. Can you shed any light on the truth of this, or lack thereof?
For many years the Pacific Northwest has been considered one of the main hubs of soccer in North America. This has been shown in the last decade with the addition of two Professional top tier clubs in the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. Youth programs in Central Washington have produced some top level talent, players who have gone to compete at the highest levels of the game, including being represented at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
For All of Yakima,When designing a badge to adorn the space that covers the hearts of our players, to decorate a scarf that hangs around our supporters necks, and to be waved on flags from the terraces of Marquette Stadium, it was important to us to capture the essence of the Yakima Valley and to embrace our heritage in a unique design.THE COLORS – For as long as there has been Semi-Pro Soccer in our valley, the club that represents our area has always worn red. It’s the color of the apples and cherries that grow in our orchards. For 15 years the Yakima Reds wore their namesake color, along with white and black, which make up three of the four colors in the YUFC palette. The fourth color is used as the color of our hops.THE HOPS – While Yakima is known for its large scale agriculture production there is one area that simply no other place in our country can compete with. A Massive 75% of all hops produced in the US come from the Yakima Valley. What better element to have as the focal point of our crest?
THE YEAR – 2010, it doesn’t seem so long ago, but before the conception of the EPLWA, Yakima United Football Club was established, and while this is our first season competing at this level we must never forget where it all started.
THE STAR – In soccer culture a star on a crest typically symbolizes a title won of some sort. At a club level it symbolizes a league title, at a national level, it is reserved for those countries who have won the most prestigious sporting trophy on earth. On a local level, for YUFC it symbolizes the one shining star that rises above the rest. Our mission as a club is to further the education and advancement of our beloved sport with hopes that not one, but many shining stars can come from our area perhaps to compete for the honors previously listed.
Thank you, Mr. Vega, for taking the time to speak with Footy Americano.
(Photos by Tracie Fowler.)