FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- It's been nearly four years since Fresno FC, a club one step below Major League Soccer, packed up and headed to the coast. Team owner Ray Beshoff citing at the time the club's inability to find a permanent home as his reason for taking the team to Monterey. Wednesday night that club, now called Monterey Bay FC, will be in Fresno to take on the Fuego in round two of the US Open Cup.
For the Central Valley club, home continues to be a hard thing to find. With player's skill and fans' passion on display at every game, the club features players from all around the world. That includes their coach, Martin Vasquez, who comes to Fresno with experience at Bayern Munich and the US men's national team. "It's challenging but it is what we have," Vasquez said. "I can't wait to have everything in the same place."
Coach Vasquez is referencing the team's current facilities. Right now playing at Fresno State, practicing at Fresno City College and hosting team headquarters, including locker rooms and weight rooms, in a business park at Shaw and Brawley in Northwest Fresno.
"In some sense, it's kind of been like a hot potato," Juan Gerardo Ruelas Jr., the team's managing partner told Action News. Right now he's focused on finding the club a permanent home. "The vision would encompass ultimately a stadium, a hotel, some residential developments and within the next ten years over 100 soccer fields in the Central Valley," said Ruelas Jr.
But finding that spot has been a challenge despite what Fresno mayor Jerry Dyer calls a "strong willingness" to have the Fuego build a stadium in downtown Fresno. Dyer has long supported the project seeing the club as a way to further bolster Fresno's entertainment options saying the project would have, "more people wanting to live downtown, restaurants, nightclubs and now you have a great downtown."
But with Chukchansi Park too costly and the sale of Selland Arena stalled, the Fuego started looking elsewhere. The team purchased 44 acres in Madera County near Valley Children's Hospital with the hope of turning the land into its soccer village. "We're not asking anybody for dollars, we're not trying to subsidize with taxpayer money," said Ruelas Jr. "We're literally just asking for permission to build a home."
Right now the Fuego's plan is going through an environmental impact review. The club's plan is already facing resistance from some neighbors in Madera County. "They come at us with things like 'my property value is going to go down. Or we don't want beer and crime rates to go up and theft," Ruelas Jr. said of the roadblocks. "We deal with the same problems. We don't want theft either."
For now, it's a waiting game with Mayor Dyer holding out hope the city can still land the club downtown. "I think if they built in Madera it would be a dual failure," Dyer said. "It would be a failure on the part of the city of Fresno to be able to land them downtown. But I think it would be a failure on their part as well because I don't think Madera is the right site for them to build a stadium."
But unlike the last ownership group that packed up and went to the coast, the Ruelas family remains insistent that soccer, and the club, are here to stay. "I'm going to have kids here, I'm going to have grandkids here...We're not going anywhere. I will die here and if it's the last thing that I do is get us a stadium that's going to happen."
Kickoff Wednesday from Fresno State's soccer stadium is set for 7:00 p.m.
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