Thursday, July 16, 2015
When Rio Grande Valley FC’s Bert Garcia spoke at the introduction of the USL’s newest club on Wednesday, recognizing those in the local community that had helped the organization’s plan come to fruition, there was one group in attendance that might be the most eager for RGVFC’s arrival in 2016.
“I know my Outlaws came out,” Garcia said, with a smile. “We appreciate the support.”
For the President of the American Outlaws’ Rio Grande Valley chapter, Phil Chairez, the excitement surrounding the arrival of a club the area can call its own was definitely growing.
“It’s super exciting,” Chairez said by phone this week. “I think all of the discussions we’ve had with the Outlaws about the fact that there’s potentially going to be a team down here is great. I think we’ve always wanted to have a local club to support, just so that every single weekend we can go out and really support them locally in conjunction with the U.S. Men’s National Team and Women’s National Team.”
A little more than two years old, AO RGV has helped unite the local soccer community around its support of the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Team programs. Officially the 96th chapter in the nationwide organization, Chairez has been happy with the progress the group has made in bringing fans together from across the area.
“The easiest part of it was getting people to come out and support,” Chairez said. “One of the unique things about our chapter is that we are the Rio Grande Valley, we’re not a single city. … We wanted to unify the whole lower Rio Grande Valley, and it was a fantastic thing. Everyone jumped on board, and the drama of the World Cup in 2014, it was a special moment for our chapter down here, because it really solidified a lot of the fandom that we have.”
The goal now is for that fandom to translate to the new local club. With a rapidly growing population, Chairez believes the Valley is becoming a more attractive place for young people to live. A native of Austin who grew up in the Valley, Chairez points to the recent merger of UT-Brownsville and University of Texas Pan-American to create the University of Texas RGV as a key facet in the recent economic upswing in the area.
“The expansion of those universities has really created an economic boom down here, with new places and new things to do, and it’s kept some of the younger people down here,” Chairez said. “Usually they’ll go off to college right after high school, but I think there’s more opportunity down here, which is keeping the younger people down here.”
The area’s age demographics, and strong ownership from respected local businessman Alonzo Cantu, provided the ideal setting for another professional sports franchise in the area, after the success created by Cantu, Garcia and their group with the NBA D-League’s RGV Vipers.
“We could go into a number of markets, but we only go into the markets when the timing is right and the right people are behind it,” USL President Jake Edwards told the Brownsville Herald’s Dennis Silva II at Wednesday’s introductory press conference. “We have that situation here.”
And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the area’s soccer culture might be one of the strongest in the country. For many in the Valley, like Chairez and many others, playing and watching soccer with friends was part of growing. Now brought together by AO RGV, those who have been lifelong fans of the game will have the chance to help build a club from the ground up, and cement the sport’s prominence in the area.“I think it’s going to open a door,” Chairez said. “I think it’s going to make quality live soccer events more accessible for all the soccer fans down here. I think it will open the eyes of some people who disregard soccer. I think a lot of people down here are football fans, baseball fans, and actually bringing a professional team down here with legitimate facilities, with an amazing stadium, with strong support, I think it will really just shine a light on the sport, and hopefully will get even more people to try it. … I think it’ll just help grow the sport down here in a more legitimate way.”