Head Coach Tony Merola expresses optimism about the upcoming season as well as the club’s future in Fort Worth.
By Paul Buckley
On Thursday evening I stopped by the soccer fields at Gateway Park in Fort Worth to catch the Vaqueros Youth Club open pick up games and the NPSL team’s training session. The pick up games featured age groups U11 through U16, and showcased the abundance of local soccer talent in Fort Worth. While the players demonstrated their skills on the field, parents watched from the stands and stopped by the Vaqueros tent to talk with club GM Anthony Harris and hear his plans for the youth teams. Despite the rainy conditions, the pick up games were well attended, and Anthony said he only expects attendance to grow over the next two weeks as word spreads.
Members of the NPSL team arrived before their own practice to help with the pick up games, and Head Coach Tony Merola used these players as examples for what the young Vaqueros can work towards and achieve. “This is your team,” he announced at the final huddle. “They represent you, and they represent the city of Fort Worth. Maybe one day, if you keep working at it, you’ll be standing where they are now.” Members of the NPSL team distributed Vaqueros stickers and tickets to the young players for upcoming games.
When I caught Coach Merola on his short break between pick up games and NPSL training, he expanded on his vision for the club. “The dream is a five-year plan to have a pro team with a fully fledged youth academy that supports it,” he said, “so we have that European model that I know works because I’ve lived it, breathed it.” [Coach Merola came up through the youth academy of his hometown team Wrexham AFC in Wales]. “Why should kids go all the way over to Dallas when we’re bringing that product to them, we’re bringing that support?”
In the meantime, the NPSL team is gearing up for their season, which starts with an away trip to local rivals Denton Diablos on May 7. Merola said that the team is looking strong, and despite unfortunate injuries to captain Marx Mora and center back Justin Kucera, the squad has depth at every position. If the trip up Interstate 35 to play in the “Chisholm Trail Classico” seems daunting, you wouldn’t know it by talking to Coach. “There’s no pressure on us,” he explained. “We’re the only ones expecting to win, the rest of the league is looking at Denton at home, first game of the season, national champions a few years ago… So from that perspective all the pressure is on them, we can go up there and enjoy ourselves, play free, and see what the outcome is.” Vaqueros fans interested in making the trip to support the Vaqueros in enemy territory can catch that game on Sunday, May 7, at 7pm at Pioneer Soccer Park on the campus of Texas Women’s University.
Coach Merola has the challenging job of keeping his focus on the here and now while always looking towards what the club can become. When I asked what made him most excited, he mentioned the overlap of the youth and senior teams at events like this one, where the youth teams can feel inspired by the older players, who in turn can give back to the Fort Worth community and pave a strong future for the team. “Everything is geared up for this club to have a full time professional team. Why not?” he asked. “Why not the Vaqueros? Why not us?”
Paul Buckley is a writer and educator living in Fort Worth. In addition to reporting on the team’s happenings, he is collecting stories to help celebrate ten years of the Vaqueros in Fort Worth. Have a story about the club you’d like to share with Paul? Just want to say hi? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org