Coming to a Full Circle: The Story of SC Verdugos
Just northeast of Los Angeles, Glendale is home to around 200,000 people and one of the largest communities of Armenians in the nation. It is the birthplace of various notable players including Jeff Larentowicz, Julio Morales, and Peter Vagenas. It is also home to the story of one of the city's first adult amateur soccer clubs: SC Verdugos. Their story is told by one of the club's founders, Carlos Duarte, a native of the area and a Psychotherapist by trade.
On May 13th, Carlos posted an Instagram video announcing that the club will cease operations after the Spring 2022 UPSL D1 SoCal North season (with less than a month remaining). The club would end the season in last place of the division with only one win and finish all playing at the adult amateur level after four years of Verdugos existence. Here is the story and future of the club told by Carlos Duarte.
What is your soccer story? How did you get into the sport?
So I was born and raised in East Hollywood. I grew up playing with my dad in Griffith Park, and he would take us almost every day after work. He taught us how to play with my brother Danilo and me. I grew up watching MLS games and Mexican league games as well. We didn't have cable, so I didn't have access to the European soccer games. I just loved it.
My first time playing competitive soccer was at Silver Lake Park. I played there a few seasons. Then from there, I played A.Y.S.O. in Glendale. I played until 19 and was on the all-star team every year.
I then played for one year at St. Francis high school. Then one year at Glendale community college. I went to G.C.C. for two years, transferred to the University of San Diego, and graduated. After moving back to L.A., I joined the Pasadena adult soccer league.
What inspired you to start SC Verdugos? What was your role(s), and who else helped you start the club?
What inspired me to start it was that we played in the Pasadena league. I started playing on a couple of teams and then created my team. It was called Blitzkrieg, and I just got a bunch of my buddies that I played high school and college with and had some fun. The P.A.S.L. has three men's divisions (A, B, and C). We started in C, won the championship, moved up to B, won the championship, moved up to A, and I think we were just hungry. We wanted more competition. I moved the team to the L.A. Metro league, winning the championship there. We were crushing everybody. That's when the UPSL reached out.
I asked many of my buddies in their late twenties, almost thirties, about joining the UPSL. I think we will be competing against some kids in shape and training every day. So I registered the team, and the guys were like, let's try it for one season and see what happens.
We showed up and won the division championship, which was incredible. We played against some established clubs that had been around for a while. We were trying to have fun with it. It was a fantastic first season.
I had a lot of help from my buddy, Nick Posthuma. He was a friend of mine from high school at St. Francis. We're having so much fun playing together the last few years, and we keep winning. It was Nick and myself that created Verdugo's together. We would have phone calls, lunch dates, and text conversations. It was the two of us that put it together.
(Carlos playing with SC Verdugos. Source: Carlos Duarte)
For an adult amateur club operating for around four years, how did you do it? What were some things you learned about the journey, good and bad?
There were a lot of challenges, and I learned so much from them.
Some of the challenges are that it is very expensive. I didn't have that much consistent help from sponsors and donors. A lot of that came from season fees. I charged players to play and their season fees to help cover most of the operating costs per season.
In addition to season fees, whatever was left came out of my pocket. Each season costs me between $8-$12K, which covers registration for the league, home field fees, training field permits, and referee fees.
We were trying to market ourselves as the Glendale club. I wanted to get some support from the community on this, but it never happened. I reached out to many local businesses, Glendale unified school district, Glendale community college, and the sports complex.
It was frustrating because the unified school district did not want to work with us. It was impossible to get a field for four years. Fortunately, we could play the majority of our home games from there.
The experience of securing a training field was like a roller coaster, but it was nice that we did have that at one point. We got lucky the first two or three seasons because Daniel Frank was coaching at S.W.A.P, and we could cut a deal with them. They provided a space for us in the San Marino area.
(Daniel Frank celebrating. Source: Carlos Duarte)
It's more than just the head coach and a general manager. A head coach needs assistant coaches, then three or four assistant coaches on the sideline, helping out the coach. It's a big reason why Daniel Frank couldn't stick around after the third year. So the moment Daniel Frank stepped off, I was alone and ready to fold the club last summer. That was when Matt Ghebrekristos stepped in.
(Matt Ghebrekristos coaching. Source: Carlos Duarte)
The only reason I kept it going was that I started it. When you create something that you genuinely love, it's your baby. It's not that easy to just let it go for someone else to just come in from the outside to take on that.
Our performance on the field was awful. I think we had to forfeit a couple of league matches because the coach/general manager at the time failed to secure a home field. I expected him to be responsible and take care of it or at the very least reach out to me if he needed help. When he did, it was just too late.
I decided to step in again this past November. I have to be involved if I'm going to save this club. Mattie Ghebrekristos, at the time, was coaching at South Pasadena high school. I asked him if there was a chance that he could talk to his athletic director so we could use the field for training. We started training in December, and through February, we played preseason matches training twice a week in the evening.
I thought we were going to turn things around. It's going to be a new year, a new season. Things were looking amazing until late February.
I wasn't there for that game, but I had to talk with Matt. It turns out that I don't even know what happened to this day. Matt says the athletic director kicked him off the field and said they were not allowed back. I talked to Mattie, and I was under the impression that there was an agreement that we could use the field. He never gave me a clear answer. I guess the athletic director had changed his mind and that it wouldn't work out. This was the beginning of the downfall of the club.
The season would kick off in a week, and we had no place to train. However, I was able to get in touch with someone who doesn't work from the Glendale sports complex office but works for the city of Glendale. He said, yeah, I can get you the field once a week, Tuesday nights at the sports complex.
In the previous three years, the complex was never available to us. We were able to get a training field for March, which was critical because that was the very beginning of the season. What sucked was that after March, I had to figure something out for April and May because I did not have anything available.
One day the coach just disappeared. He had not been showing up to training. I couldn't get ahold of him for ten days. I had to step in and coach the next game.
I wasn't aware that guys were very unhappy or quit. So I asked my buddy Christian Welch, a coach for Surf and a former Verdugo's player, for some help.
So we went that first week without training at all. Luckily for us, that weekend was a BYE week. I still had not heard from Mattie the following week, so Christian Welsh was running the morning sessions. At that point, the players were just unmotivated.
Eventually, Mattie did get back to me. He said he was going through some personal things. I said, don't worry about the season. He understood, and that was it.
Christian and I would coach the remaining games this season until our last match. It just didn't feel like it was the ending that this club deserved. It was just sad.
What were some goals/achievements the team accomplished? Were these the same goals you had in your mind?
(Verdugos lifting trophy. Source: Carlos Duarte)
We aim to get our men's and women's teams to the premier division. We did not accomplish this, but we came close a couple of times to be a club for your everyday player for players, men, and women who want to come out and train, who want to get fit and improve their game. That was when we were at our best.
How tough was it to cease operations?
It was a tough decision; it felt like every season could be the last because it was so much work. We were limited on resources, money, and workforce. It was hard on my life, my time, and my wallet. What kept me going each season was I loved what I created.
I will not continue after this season because running a club is costly without having enough people helping me navigate this ship. I couldn't provide as great a space as I wanted to. That could have happened if there was more support from people financially and just with their time. It just never happened for us.
How do you want people to remember SC Verdugos? What is the next step for you? Will you continue with another soccer project, or is it all over?
I want them to remember the moments where it felt like a family because it did. Even the guys who weren't with us for four years would come back in some capacity; some tried playing in Mexico, trained with teams in Europe, and played for their college teams but stayed in touch.
There was a community that Verdugos had created in these four years. I hope everyone remembers the community and the family that came together. It was a beautiful thing.
Those are the fondest memories that I will take with me, and winning the championship in 2019.
I can never be done with soccer; it's a huge part of my life. My son is seven years old and recently just finished baseball season. I finished registering him for AYSO here in Glendale. I signed up as a volunteer coach so that I will coach my boy in the fall. It's meaningful to teach my son the game I love and grew up sharing with my dad. To be able to share that with my son is incredibly special.
I registered a team in the Pasadena league where all of this started, and it's called SC Verdugo's. I got some of my buddies in our early mid-thirties, and we're back at it again.
I think it's just more for fun and kick the ball around with some friends, but we will keep it there while I coach my boy on Saturday mornings.