Soccer park fuels dreams
By Hoyt Smith
Young soccer players perfect their game and prepare for potential glory and stardom.
A five-acre lot in a relatively rural portion of northeast Poway represents a pivotal point between the community’s past and future.
Just southwest of the intersection at Twin Peaks and Espola roads are remnants of Poway’s roots, including the Poway Valley Stock Farm and the Poway Valley Riders Association. Here, the stables, corrals and horse trails remain relatively unchanged from the 1890s.
A five-acre lot in a relatively rural portion of northeast Poway represents a pivotal point between the community’s past and future. Just southwest of the intersection at Twin Peaks and Espola roads are remnants of Poway’s roots, including the Poway Valley Stock Farm and the Poway Valley Riders Association. Here, the stables, corrals and horse trails remain relatively unchanged from the 1890s.
Past the fenceposts and through the eucalyptus groves, illuminated at dusk by arena lights, young soccer players perfect their game and prepare for potential glory and stardom in the months and years to come.
Welcome to the North County Soccer Park (NCSP), a tidy green rectangle of suburban real estate owned and operated by Poway residents Dave Brennan and Rod Bleakley. Brennan has been overseeing youth and adult soccer leagues here for almost two decades.
Bleakley, who joined Brennan as part-owner in 2012, has connections to the Soccer Park that date back to his childhood. “I used to ride my bike here from Rancho Penasquitos when I was a kid,” he said.
The format hasn’t changed all that much since the original owners, Tom Schwartz and Mark Bentley, opened the Soccer Park in 1986. There are still leagues for Pee Wees, Juniors, youth and adult leagues, as well as summer camps. Brennan added “Lil’ Kickers” and “Lil’ Sluggers,” instructive soccer and baseball programs for kids in their formative years.
The main difference between the NCSP of Bleakley’s youth and the NCSP of today may be the state-of-the-art arena just beyond the main office.
“It is the largest indoor soccer facility west of the Mississippi, modeled after the field at the one-time San Diego Sports Arena,” he said. According to Bleakley, his predecessors Schwartz and Bentley were inspired to recreate the venue for the 10-time world champion San Diego Sockers. Since then, a smaller enclosed soccer arena has also been created for children and three-man teams.
Another big change over the decades is the popularity and acceptance of soccer in U.S. culture. Two years ago, Gallup Inc. reported that soccer had become the third-most played team sport in the United States, behind only basketball and American football, and it is now the nation’s second-fastest growing sport.
Youth soccer fields are now as ubiquitous as Little League baseball fields in communities like Poway. Bleakley and Brennan have plenty of competition locally, including Valley Soccer Field and Sportsplex USA Poway. But with its longevity, NCSP holds a unique legacy for many, which is captured in the tales that the co-owner shares about his own family and many others.
“I started working here in, gosh, 1986,” he said. “It was one of my very first jobs, and one of my dreams was to eventually come back.”
Sixteen years ago, Bleakley was at NCSP with his son when he met Brennan and said, “If you ever sell this place, let me know.”
Dave and Rod’s friendship began at that point and they have been working as full-time partners for nearly four years now.
The NCSP co-owners interact with almost a thousand kids a week, and Bleakley stated he and Brennan have seen a significant portion of Poway’s young people grow up.
“My grandson has been playing here, and it was a pure joy watching him score his very first goal,” Bleakley said.
He has observed many others develop into talented soccer players, including the children of many notable athletes.
“We even have a few older players out here who have been playing soccer here since the park opened”, he added.
It’s the notable athletes of tomorrow that make NCSP’s owners and coaches particularly excited. Along with the growing U.S. interest in soccer comes the anticipation that some who practice weekly on the greens in this northeastern corner of Poway will go on to star on an Olympic, NCAA or professional soccer team.
“The skills classes here are really outstanding,” said David Hiden, president of the Vaqueros Soccer Club, who is also a parent, a coach and a soccer player.
Consequently, he said there is a lot of recruitment going on. “We have a lot of academy coaches looking for players in Poway,” Hiden said. “It all starts with the North County Soccer Park. I love that place.” Bleakley believes the kids currently playing soccer at NCSP will continue to advance Poway on the world soccer map.
“I think North County Soccer Park is going to contribute to that awareness for years to come,” he said.