Friday, August 21, 2015
Rio Grande Valley FC’s Bert Garcia has had the pulse of the southern Texas region from childhood.
Born and raised in Edinberg, Garcia holds a significant role in the sports landscape in the region. Garcia serves in a dual capacity as President of the NBA D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers and is currently overseeing the day-to-day business for 2016 USL expansion side RGVFC.
“I’ll never say that I’ve made an impact – I’m just grateful for the ownership group, Alonzo Cantu and everyone has been able to provide,” Garcia said. “To have a professional basketball team and now professional soccer, structure deals and build our own soccer arena – those were opportunities I didn’t have when I was growing up. I never would have imagined it. Back then, you had your Houston Astros or Dallas Cowboys, but you always had to travel to attend games. The quality of life has changed.”
A month has passed since RGVFC made its announcement that it is joining the USL for the start of the 2016 season. For Garcia, the new venture is exciting opportunity to build on an already budding sports environment.
“Growing up, I never would have dreamt of working in sports because there were no teams here, and that’s where things have changed,” Garcia said. “We’re considered the fastest-growing metropolis in the U.S., so a lot is happening here for the local residents to experience.”
Garcia’s growth within the Vipers organization, affiliated with the NBA’s Houston Rockets, is a path that any local person involved in pro athletics would dream of in this grind of a profession. He started off as an operations volunteer for former Vipers head coach Bob Hoffman, who he had worked with at the University of Texas-Pan American.
“The D-League teams had low budgets back then, so I was working for free and pursuing the work 100 percent on the basketball level,” Garcia said. “After volunteering for four months, I worked on the corporate sponsorship side in the front office, was promoted to assistant GM of corporate sales, Vice President of Operations and then President after four years.”
Garcia never played soccer in a competitive level, but it goes without saying that he and the community are immersed with the sport. From both a participation and entertainment standpoint, that bodes well for RGVFC as it looks to make an immediate impact when it debuts next year.
“I didn’t play soccer in high school, and I regret it now because soccer is so prominent here,” Garcia said. “We have a lot of young kids in the area connected with the sport, whether it is Liga MX or MLS. I believe that soccer will be enjoyed and accepted culturally here. I’ve also talked to Liga MX scouts, from Atlas and other teams, and they all have said that there is a lot of rich talent out here. Per our area’s population, they have said that the talent base is similar to a lot of big markets in Mexico.”
With pieces remaining to the puzzle for RGVFC’s infrastructure, staff and roster, Garcia is confident that the club can produce an impactful product based on the success rate with the Vipers.
“With the Vipers, we’ve always had a winning tradition, quality players and quality staff, and I think that’s something that will transcend to the soccer side,” Garcia said. “The two D-League championships and the quality of play is something that resonates among the entire team and the ownership group.”
Integral toward RGVFC’s success is its partnership with the Houston Dynamo. With Dynamo President Chris Canetti’s involvement, the two-time MLS champion side formed an agreement that is different than other MLS clubs’ USL teams as the RGVFC front office will function on its own. The relationship’s benefits will be purely in the tactical realm.
“That’s something that Chris has always done, taking things outside of the box,” Garcia said. “We were the first in the D-League to do that, so we wanted to approach [the Dynamo] as well. Because they also operate the [NWSL’s] Houston Dash, we knew that they didn’t want to spend a lot of resources in running a third team, so we approached them and partnered up.”
Regarding the progress of the RGVFC franchise, Garcia said things are on track with the state-of-the-art 9,400-seat stadium, with the demolition phase completed and construction phase in progress.
The team name also is set, so that unveiling will be on the horizon. Garcia said that approximately 1,000 people participated in the voting process, and the club is now designing the logo and color schemes.
“It’s not going to be any secret that our color schemes will reflect closely with the Houston Dynamo’s orange and black, and maybe we’ll add a third color.”
For Garcia, RGVFC is already becoming another intriguing chapter for this Rio Grande Valley sports staple.
“I’m a sports guy who’s put in the 12-hour days and 80-hour workweeks, and I’ve had the hunger to keep going,” Garcia said. “I’ve been blessed.”