Corpus Christi is currently one of the largest cities in Texas without a high-level amateur or professional soccer team. With the exception of the Corpus Christi Fuel, part of the National Premier Soccer League and short-lived Southern Premier Soccer League earlier this decade, top quality soccer of any kind has been hard to find in the Coastal Bend through the years.
Fortunately for the growing number of soccer fans in the Corpus area, this will change in the spring when the newly-formed Corpus Christi FC Sharks make their debut in the USL Premier Development League (PDL). The PDL is a US Adult Soccer Association-National Affiliate-sanctioned league and generally recognized as being part of the fourth-tier of the US Soccer Pyramid. Featuring mostly college players, who are able to retain their amateur status, the PDL season runs from May to August. There are 6 Texas teams in the PDL Mid South Division, four in south Texas and two in the north. The Sharks and Houston-based AHFC Royals are the two new Texas teams added this season.
Corpus Christi FC joined the PDL in October 2017 and is owned and operated by local pediatrician Dr. Kingsley Okonkwo. One of the first key moves made by Dr. Okonkwo was to put the soccer side of the club in the hands of Sammy Giraldo who will lead the team into its first season as head coach. Giraldo also has deep roots in the community. Born in Colombia, he moved to the U.S. at an early age and grew up in Corpus Christi. He played and coached high school soccer there and, together with his brother Dr. Sebastian Giraldo, has operated a high-level soccer training and educational program for boys and girls at all age levels in the Corpus Christi area since its establishment six years ago.
Corpus Christi FC Head Coach Sammy Giraldo (photo and logo courtesy of Corpus Christi FC)
Sammy Giraldo is elated about the reaction he has seen for the Sharks in the local area. “There is a lot of passion in the community. This is a perfect time (for a new team) with what is going on locally and nationally too.” Giraldo added, “I am stopped absolutely everywhere and the number one comment I hear is that we are excited because we always wanted soccer here and there has never been that opportunity.”
The Sharks are in the process of finalizing the initial roster. One last local tryout will be held this weekend and, recently, the coaching staff has been living on the phone speaking with top soccer athletes nationally in what is a very competitive recruiting environment. Giraldo anticipates having the roster almost complete in early March. Assuming current trends, approximately 40% of the team will be made up of international players who play at U.S. universities. The remaining 60% of the roster will be equally divided among players from the local area, Texas student-athletes attending college outside the state, and those from other parts of the country. Two local high school and club soccer stars, Karo Azali and Seth Korenek, were introduced as the Sharks first signings at the expansion announcement in October.
The club’s coaching staff is also near completion. His brother Sebastian will serve as assistant coach and a team physician, Dr. William Curtis, has been recently named. The goalkeeper coach will be announced in the next few weeks. Giraldo’s father, Jose Giraldo, PhD., who has a long history following the game, will also have his role with the club finalized shortly.
Plans are in place for the team to assemble to play the initial preseason game against fellow PDL side, Houston FC, on April 21. Giraldo hopes to conduct a couple of training camps over the next few months, especially during school breaks. It was a pleasant surprise to hear that he also plans to invite local youth soccer players to these sessions to help introduce them to a higher-level soccer environment.
The Sharks intend to play technical and possession-based soccer, emphasizing technique, vision and skill, much like is taught at his training center. “We want to have the ball 60-70% of the time and are confident we can do that”, Giraldo noted. The coaching staff is finding an extremely receptive audience when speaking with potential players they are recruiting to play for the Sharks this season. Sammy Giraldo has been pleased with the reaction he has received. “We have gotten a lot of excitement when we reach out to players and we tell them about our philosophy. Most players that we see, regardless of what systems they play in, want to play a much more possession based game.”
Giraldo is recruiting players with the technical skills required to play in this type of system and also those who have demonstrated leadership abilities. “I get to see, much more than the regular person, the high quality of players that actually exist in this country”, said Giraldo. The roster he is assembling includes players who have represented their countries at the youth level and those who have captained their college and regional Olympic Development Teams.
The Sharks will play their 7-match spring and summer home schedule at Dr. Jack Dugan Family Soccer Center at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. This 4-year old soccer specific stadium seats 750 and includes full locker rooms and a modern artificial turf field. The inaugural regular season match will take place on Sunday, May 13 when Corpus takes on AHFC Royals at 7:00 p.m. The Coastal Bend area has supported the A&M-Corpus Christi soccer team and Giraldo fully expects this support to carry-over to the new PDL expansion team. “I think Corpus is going to have an awesome atmosphere on game days.”
Corpus Christi will need all the help the fan base can provide the team. In addition to the other Texas teams, who are all entering their second year of PDL play, the Sharks must cope with a very strong OKC Energy U23 side. The only non-Texas team in the Mid South Division dominated the first-year Texas teams (11-0 with a +29-goal differential) on the way to winning the division championship last year.
Giraldo is undeterred and excited about what the new Coastal Bend side will bring to the PDL. “We understand the challenges ahead of us. That being said, we have very high standards of ourselves. We want to put a product on the field that plays exciting football to watch and exciting football to play.”
Giraldo continued, “If we are successful in that, what we will expect to see is some level of success on the field. Our goal in a very short time is to be competing and in this first year we want to make sure, at the very minimum, we show people that Corpus Christi FC very quickly wants to be at the top and compete for championships.”
There has been an explosion of new high-level amateur teams in Texas over the last year. The addition of a high-level soccer team to Corpus Christi, a previously under-served portion of the state, bodes well for the continued growth of soccer in Texas.