ENCINITAS — For the seventh year in a row, kids who play for the Cardiff Mustangs competitive youth soccer club got to take part in the opening ceremony at the San Diego Sockers home opener at Pechanga Arena, held Nov. 24 against Turlock Cal Express.
Dozens of Mustangs, dressed in their red soccer jerseys, took to the field before the start of the game, and got an up-close and personal view of the pros coming onto the field.
They cheered as each Sockers player was introduced, but the loudest cheers were saved for Kraig Chiles, the captain of the Sockers and the director of the Mustangs organization.
“Oh my God, it’s so amazing,” Sunday Nelson, 9, said at her seat after the ceremony. “I like it a lot, and to be on the TV and stuff. And you get to see all the soccer players in person. But coach Kraig, I get to see him a lot, though.”
Sunday said she’s been playing soccer with the Mustangs since she was 4 years old, first on a rec team then transitioning to a competitive team two years ago. She plays left defense and left midfield and says she loves running back and forth, practicing her footwork and trying to shoot on goal.
“Soccer is just like fun, honestly, it makes me happy,” she said.
Beckham Kunkler, 12, who plays goalie and left wing for the Mustangs, said he was also thrilled to be part of the opening ceremony.
“It’s a first,” he said from on the field. “It’s kind of exciting because I’ve never been down here, I’ve been pretty close but never all the way on the field.”
Despite his name, Beckham said his favorite soccer player is not David Beckham, in fact he doesn’t have a favorite. Beckham said he’s been playing soccer for six years and he enjoys the social aspect of it.
“It feels like you have a community because you see each other at school and it helps to build relationships,” he said.
About 650 kids, mostly from Encinitas and Cardiff, participate in Cardiff Mustangs programs. Roughly 300 kids play on rec teams and the other 350 play on competitive teams.
Tryouts for the upcoming season start next month. For players born in 2010-2013, tryouts will take place in December. For players born in 2006-2009, tryouts are in January. Tryouts for players born in 2005 and earlier will take place in the spring following the high school season.
Chiles got involved with the Mustangs organization about seven years ago, when Cardiff Soccer League board member Dan Van Dyck approached him about running a clinic. Chiles said at the time, the Mustangs were a small rec league with a lot of potential.
“There was a huge field being built, which is Encinitas Community Park, and I kind of thought there was an opportunity there to grow something a little bit bigger and better,” Chiles said after Sunday’s game.
He began coaching two teams and a year later brought teammate Ray Reza on board. They helped grow the organization from about five competitive teams to roughly 30 competitive teams today.
“It was a quick growth and we were very aware of not wanting to be some astronomical club with 100 teams and getting too big, too quick,” Chiles said. “It was an organic process where we didn’t really force any teams. We had good coaches with positive attitudes and that’s what drew those players out to us.”
Chiles, 35, said his position with the Mustangs is a great fit for his schedule— he practices with the Sockers during the day and coaches in the afternoon. He said the fact that he has played soccer in San Diego since he first started at age 4 makes him that much more relatable to the kids. He played on local rec and competitive leagues, then for Poway High School, then San Diego State and now 11 years with the Sockers.
“So literally everything I did was local,” he said. “I can say that I was literally born and raised here, developed here, and got to the top of the totem pole with perseverance and time.”
Chiles holds a number of distinctions in the league — he is the No. 1 top scorer in franchise history with more than 400 goals scored, a seven-time all-league player, three-time league MVP, and four-time national champion.
He scored a goal at the Nov. 24 game, but the Sockers fell 6-7 to Turlock.
Along with the Mustangs, Chiles also shares his passion for the game with his 4-year-old twin boys, who started playing soccer this year. His 5-year-old daughter will likely start next year.
“I had a lot of good coaches growing up and I want to pass on the love for the game to these upcoming players,” he said. “It’s a great lifestyle and honestly I enjoy being out on those fields coaching and being with the kids, it’s fun for me.”
Tawny McCray is a native San Diegan and graduate of San Diego State University. She has known she wanted to be a journalist since writing for her Jr. High School newspaper in 1991. She has worked at The Star News in Chula Vista, The San Diego Union Tribune and ABC 10News San Diego. She has recently freelanced for Scripps Ranch News and The Poway Eagle and is a longtime freelancer with creators.com. She is working on authoring books with her twin sister, Nyla. She and her husband have two kids and live in South Park.