Across America, fall weekends are for football.
In Utah Valley, among other places, Saturdays and Sundays are also for ‘futbol.’
Adult soccer leagues — both indoor and outdoor — are popular all across the valley and particularly within the Latino community, which account for more than 200,000 of the population in Orem and Provo alone, according to 2016 census numbers.
Ryan Cook, whose mother is from Peru, has been in love with soccer since he was 5 years old. He came to the Utah Valley 22 years ago to find a smattering of pickup games the only soccer available for adults.
“My mother got me started early and my uncle played professionally in Peru,” Cook said. “Soccer is a passion of mine and I’ve always loved it. But I never thought I’d be in the business of soccer. It just kind of happened because there was a need here. There weren’t any outdoor leagues, so I just wanted to find somewhere to play, and it just grew.”
Cook now runs Premier Club Soccer League, the longest running adult soccer league based in Utah County. The PCSL services over 1,000 players in the valley over the course of a year. He says about half of the participants are of Hispanic descent.
There are 11 on 11 and 6 on 6 men’s leagues, women’s leagues and co-ed leagues. All indoor and outdoor leagues have multiple divisions separated by skill level.
PCSL was established by Cook in 1997 at a time when there was not an adult soccer league in the Utah Valley. Some teams participated in leagues based in Salt Lake City and there were tournaments held in the Utah Valley, but no local leagues.
On this particular Saturday afternoon at Rock Canyon Park in Provo, the fall outdoor league is winding down as the cold weather moves into Utah. Next week, the indoor leagues begin.
Alex Torres, who lives in Orem, played high school soccer at Mountain View and later with Utah FC. He plays for the Reds on the weekends, competing against young adults and older players as well.
“It feels pretty good,” Torres said. “It gets your blood running and the competition is there. I like to come here and have fun, ball out when I can.”
Torres said his mother is from Mexico and that he is a fan of the Mexican National Team, nicknamed “El Tri” for the tri-colored Mexican flag.
“I love how much fun I can have playing soccer,” Torres said. “Honestly, you can kind of forget everything and just be in your own mind with soccer. It’s fun to play because you can meet new people and build chemistry with people I’ve never met before. It’s cool that you can become one with a sport. It’s a good stress reliever. You can just come out and have fun with friends.”
Cook said most of his American players will wear any old t-shirt and shorts to play games on the weekends. Those of Latino descent — faithful to their national team — will often dress in full colors of Mexico, Argentina or Brazil.
On Saturday, one of the teams was decked out in the uniform of the Peruvian National Team.
“They are able to express their passion and their patriotism toward their country,” Cook said. “There are a lot of different cultures here and I love it.”
Cook doesn’t just manage the PCSL; he plays on one of the teams.
“It’s a tough question to answer, why I love it,” he said. “I love the creativity of the game and the freedom you have out there. I’ve played a lot of other sports and I love sports in general. But in a lot of other sports, you have to run plays. In soccer you are free to be creative. It’s the most fun sport for me to play. When you love it, you just love it.”