Northbound: Soccer a scoring opportunity for North County

Competitive soccer is about to kick off in North County.

Last month, the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), the largest soccer league in the United States, announced the newly-formed North County (NC) Battalion had joined the league as an expansion team.

The team name pays tribute to the military personnel and firefighters stationed in North County, and their service in the community. NC Battalion is the latest addition to the NPSL Southwest Conference, which includes the Temecula FC, San Diego Flash, and FC Force (Bonita).

In an interview with team owner Jason Barbato, I learned that NC Battalion was founded with a strong desire to bring soccer action closer to local fans. Supporting a team isn’t an easy task for North County soccer enthusiasts, whose options include driving two hours to see an LA Galaxy match, or crossing the border to watch the Tijuana Xolos play.

The San Diego Flash played most of its home games last season at high schools located in Tierrasanta and southeast San Diego, which for this Carlsbad-based author averages 45 minutes to an hour in traffic.

NC Battalion hasn’t announced a home stadium yet, but is currently reviewing a list of finalists.

Barbato, a lifelong Southern California resident and “avid fan” of soccer, is optimistic about the team’s inaugural season. “We believe that there is a demand for this club in our community and the amazing reception we’ve received so far indicates that we are headed in the right direction,” he said. Asked how he would gauge success in the team’s first year, Barbato replied that a 500-plus fan attendance at home games and financially breaking even are his benchmarks, along with the team qualifying for a playoff berth.

When the NPSL season gets underway next April, local team support isn’t likely to go unnoticed. The team branding makes a loud statement.

Ditching the soft pastels and coastal-themed colors used by many organizations in North County, NC Battalion has instead adopted black and yellow as its official team colors. Crossed fire axes adorn the team badge. Combined with strong competitive play on the field, the team will be well positioned to grow its fan base and support across North County.

I’ll check in again with Barbato shortly before the season opener for a progress report. I think this is the right time for a North County-branded soccer team to arrive.

The potential and market interest seems to be here. In an area with over 750,000 residents (and growing), the team could help put North County on the map — and bring us closer together as a community.

More work lays ahead for NC Battalion. Next, the team has to build their 23 man roster.

High school players, collegiate, semi-pro and professional players are all welcome to showcase their skills for team eligibility. A final roster will be decided after several rounds of tryouts.

The first team tryout for the 2016 season have been scheduled for Nov. 1, from 2 to 5 p.m. at Horizon Prep in Rancho Santa Fe.

Those interested in team tryouts or learning more about NC Battalion can visit the team website, ncbattalion.com.

Vince Vasquez is a think tank analyst in Torrey Pines, and soccer enthusiast. He is a Carlsbad resident. 

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