Northbound: Building a soccer battalion in North County

Soccer action is set for North County this spring.

Five months ago, I profiled the North County (NC) Battalion, a new expansion soccer team in the National Premier Soccer League. At the time, NC Battalion team owner Jason Barbato told me he was eager to begin team tryouts, community outreach and securing a home field.

In a recent interview with Barbato, I learned he’s kept up with his aggressive plans.

After two rounds of team tryouts, the NC Battalion has finalized its 30-man roster, which includes players from Jamaica and South Sudan.

Sixteen players formerly with the San Diego Flash also made the cut, raising the level of competitive play.

Asked about the team’s prospects for its inaugural season, Barbato told me: “we’re in a great position,” noting the squad’s talent, and that some of the players have already played together for three to five seasons.

Training is underway; the team meets three times a week for strength and conditioning training at the Catalyst Training Center in Mira Mesa.

On-field workouts are also held at the Del Norte High School Stadium in 4S Ranch, the home field chosen for the 2016 season.

The NC Battalion’s full schedule for the 2016 season will be announced this week, but the home opener is set for April 9, with a face-off against FC Hasental from Thousand Oaks. Season ticket packages are already available for purchase on the team’s website, ncbattalion.com.

Community outreach has been “slow,” but that’s not for lack of effort.

Barbato wants to create a family-friendly experience; kids under 10 will be able to attend games for free, and will be invited on the field at some half-time events.

Team buses will also have extra seats available for NC Battalion fans interested in attending away games, and a major community event is scheduled for mid-March.

Barbato is working with ViaSat, Carlsbad’s largest employer, to provide live streaming capability for games, so fans worldwide will be able to watch matches, as well as local bars and restaurants.

I’ll check in again with Barbato before the home opener in April, but I applaud his efforts to build a minor league soccer program in North County.

Everywhere I go, I see that soccer culture is alive and well in our community.

A fun, competitive soccer team we can call our own could bring us closer together and generate greater interest in our part of the region. So far, it seems like those pieces are falling into place.

Vince Vasquez is a think tank analyst based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.

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