By Contributing Writer, Russell Gurule
Just recently, I sat in on a Q&A Session with Larry about his soccer journey from the Chiles to becoming the General Manager of the Sol, and everything in between. I hope you enjoy as Larry talks in his own words about the past and the lessons learned, plus the present, and what the future holds for the Sol; plus the many other things such as the Sol foundation and the goal of entering the USL. We go deep with Larry. Enjoy!
SolFC: The Chiles, did you play for them the whole time they were in existence?
LARRY: I played for three years basically, 91′-94′ the last year they converted to the Geckos. I got involved with coaching after that experience.
SolFC: Did you play in high school? How did you become a player?
LARRY: I grew up here in Abq. I played for Abq United. Then I played for St Pius High School and had the first ever state championship team for St. Pius. We won two out of the three years I was at St. Pius. Then I received an academic scholarship to UNM. I was trying to walk on at UNM. I didn’t know you needed a particular ACT score to play a college sport. I had taken the ACT once, and I had scored a 17. But you needed an 18 to play college soccer
SolFC: So did you stay at UNM without playing?
LARRY: I stayed at UNM, and waved my eligibility, and that’s when I started playing for the Chiles.
SolFC: Is that how the love affair with soccer and the idea of a sports team came about?
LARRY: Yeah, I got to experience more of what the training was like. We had a bunch of really good players. But then I really got into coaching. I was a regional scout for awhile. Meaning I would sit and watch 14-15yr olds play to see if they where good enough to play at the next level.
SolFC: After the Chiles, and coaching. Have you done another career?
LARRY: Basically, I coached for about 10yrs. I got turned off on coaching because of the parents. I walked away from the game. I didn’t play or coach for about 4-5yrs. I started playing again and re- sparked my love for the game. Between that time, I basically ran restaurants, and was involved in many different areas of real estate.
SolFC: How did you and Ron come together to create the Sol?
LARRY: That’s funny. Ron and I had been sharing the same idea with a friend about starting a soccer team. Ron and I didn’t know each other. The soccer community is still small enough that I would’ve known a guy by the name of Patel. I thought it was kinda like a hoax. My buddy Greg, the friend I was talking about, called me and Ron to coffee and introduced us. That’s how the Sol was born. We actually call it, “The Blind Date.” (no further comments!)
SolFC: What was the ultimate goal when you guys got together?
LARRY: What’s funny, all we wanted to do is to create a higher level of soccer. Then we started looking at it and devising a plan. We set goals to go announce pro by 2018…. Build a non profit arm… a stadium… then, eventually, bring a MLS team here. Whether we can actually obtain that or not, I don’t know. Goals are set to be reached. So that’s what we’re trying to do.
SolFC: What was it like kicking off the first year of the Sol?
LARRY: Let’s put it that way. I had played but never run a team. Ron had run a business, but never run a sports team. So you start looking at what you need, and what you need to do. You don’t realize that you need to spend $1,000 on medical supplies and tape in the first 6 months. All the things incorporated into game day, some of those things you don’t think about there’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of logistics. We have figured out now, for the most part!
SolFC: The last three years, it seems the most avid fans know everything about the club. The Sandianistas, and others, and now it seems like a lot more are getting on the Sol train. How are you feeling about this year?
LARRY: Excited, sometimes overwhelmed. You think about where should we be? Where could we be? Sometimes you wonder if you’re far enough along. We’ve made it this far. The more we develop, we get guys who are willing to help us get to that next level.
SolFC: The next step, it’s about finding a home. Could you talk about stadium plans?
LARRY: I think the impressive part is the evidence. The proof is in the pudding, and a lot of people are starting to recognize. Yeah, we can support this. Yeah, we do need a stadium. When you start getting feedback like that, it becomes fun and exciting. Will it happen? You believe it will happen. Ideally, we all want it right here, right now. I think we’ll find out once the economic analysis/study is released shortly that the city funded. That’s the beautiful thing about numbers. Numbers don’t lie. When you have the support of the numbers, then you can go forward. I’m excited.
SolFC: It’s been you and Ron these past few years. You’re a business now. What’s the next plan?
LARRY: Yeah, that’s what Ron and I talk about. We’ve said for a long time that Albuquerque has all the pieces to the puzzle. It’s just a matter of putting all the pieces together correctly, right people, right places. That’s the next step. Let’s figure out what it takes to operate a USL (2nd divison Pro) team. We’re steps ahead of other people who have a USL team but have never operated a team. We have those valuable learning experiences. You’ve got a group that has already done it, and done it well for the last 4yrs.
SolFC: In your wildest dreams, did you think that you would be here today doing this?
LARRY: No, I had no idea. I look on some of the things that have happened to me in life, and I can see the lessons learned that have been valuable to get me here.
SolFC: The Sol Foundation, what is it about?
LARRY: The Sol Foundation is to make sure we continue to give back to the city that has been so good to both Ron and I. The foundation is to help those maybe not as fortunate, and to provide services that are an issue for New Mexicans. Financial literacy being one of them, and if we do this right. We help overcome a problem. The big thing with the foundation is what we are now, and where we want to be.
SolFC: A more educated society?
LARRY: Yeah, it’s for the same things other non profits do. But we want to make sure the dollars stay here in New Mexico. For now, we have other people who are starting to get involved.
SolFC: Your overall thoughts on how the season is going?
LARRY: It’s a perfect storm, things are happening, and there’s no real explanation for them. But when they do happen it becomes real interesting. I think things happen and pan out the way they’re supposed to. The guys managed to get through their frustration. We didn’t lose those games because we were outplayed. We played well.
SolFC: Plans for an Professional training facility in the works for the future?
LARRY: Absolutely, we are facility challenged here in Albuquerque. It doesn’t matter what club you play for. We struggle for soccer fields. If we can do things that help overcome that, well those are good things to get involved in. I think once everything is put together and we look at it, then we can determine a course of action. But is a plan actually in place, no. But those are things we do in the off season.
SolFC: Did you have a mentor to help you get to where you’re at right now?
LARRY: I’ve got a few of them. But I couldn’t do this without the support of my family. I’ve got a very understanding girlfriend, and a very understanding family who understands why I’m on the road. My parents help out at every event. I couldn’t do it without Mr. and Mrs. Lorenzo Espinosa and my girlfriend Lori, and my daughter Emma.
Larry is an inspiration to both young and old. There you have it folks! One of the Godfathers of New Mexico Soccer, Larry Espinoza!