Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pachuca F.C. makes its way to Montgomery

MSC Dragons coach Zarate starts new youth club

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A familiar face among some of the county’s most elite soccer teams is bringing the name of one of Mexico’s most cherished professional soccer teams to Montgomery County

Julio Zarate, head coach of the Good Counsel High boys team and three Montgomery Soccer Club teams — most notably the four-time Maryland State Cup-champion, U-18 MSC Dragons — will soon be calling the shots for Pachuca Fútbol Club USA, which is expected to launch this fall.

Pachuca is a registered affiliate of the Mexican-based club of the same name (Pachuca Club de Fútbol), the longest-running team in Mexico.

‘‘This is like ... a dream come true,” said Zarate, 52, a Mexican native born in Acapulco. In many soccer clubs, players are not always the top priority, he said.

‘‘We’re going to be about the players first,” Zarate said.

The club’s mission statement states the following: ‘‘To attain our goals the club would look to develop teams in all age brackets that can compete on both a local and [n]ational level. Our philosophy will include the development of players at the proper rate without undue pressure.”

‘‘We’re going to develop players the way kids are supposed to develop,” Zarate said. ‘‘Our kids for the Dragons have had so much success, and we hope every single kid we have will have the same success.”

Zarate, who lives in Derwood, has coached recreational leagues at Montgomery Soccer Inc., the largest youth sports organization in the county with more than 15,000 participants, for more than 15 years. He’s enjoyed great success with MSC, the elite team division of MSI. Since fall 1999, Zarate’s U-18 team has been one of the best club teams in the United States, winning approximately 500 matches, according to Zarate, and several championships.

The team is currently ranked fourth in the country by, and 21 of the team’s 22 players either already play at NCAA Division I colleges or have scholarship offers.

In addition to his MSC teams, Zarate coaches two U-14 teams for MSI. Over the years, he and MSI leadership haven’t always seen eye to eye, he said. In addition, Zarate wanted to coach more teams.

Doug Schuessler, MSI executive director, said Zarate’s request to coach other teams within the organization was denied. MSI rules state that no person can coach more than two teams at one time; the organization believes one person couldn’t commit enough time to more than two teams and their players. MSI had already bent the rules for Zarate, who coached three teams, but wasn’t willing to bend more.

‘‘I wish Julio the absolute best,” Schuessler said. ‘‘I can say, honestly, there’s nothing personal in the decision. We felt it was not in the best interest of the kids that someone should have more teams than they can logistically handle.”

Zarate didn’t have an elaborate plan when he drove to Baltimore on Jan. 17 to watch a National Soccer Coaches Association of America symposium, but he knew who he was interested in seeing. The man of the hour was Carlos Trucco, director of coaching for Pachuca, who was giving a presentation titled, ‘‘Plans and Decision Making in a Soccer Structure.”

Zarate sought him out when the speech was over, telling him that he was interested in creating an American Pachuca club.

Trucco told Zarate that if he was serious, he should visit Mexico to see how the club operates.

Zarate did, and was given the go-ahead to start a Pachuca offspring, after Trucco was impressed with his résumé and ambition.

‘‘I remember coming back from Mexico thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing?’” he said. ‘‘I have no money, no idea. How am I going to set this up? And then these people came into my life.”

Those people included Bill Britt and Bill Rozek, both parents of Good Counsel freshman players. Interested in raising their children’s skill level, they contacted Zarate in February for help. When Zarate mentioned that he was attempting to form a club, his new allies sprung into action.

‘‘The club was borne out of his idea, and the rest of us are helping out operationally,” Britt said. ‘‘You know, setting up the structure of the organization, getting the proper insurances, licenses, certifications.

‘‘Initially, the goal was ... to get my son ready to play high school soccer,” he said. ‘‘But the goal is bigger than that now. We’d like to produce kids who play in college and professionally.”

Zarate can’t believe his own luck. He likes to think of the last few months as a miracle.

‘‘They took care of everything: lawyers, accountants, things I couldn’t do,” he said.

For now, Zarate continues to coach the Dragons and at Good Counsel. But he’s also getting Pachuca Futbol ready. The club has four teams signed up, along with a host of tryouts and camps.