Bullish on the depth of talent in the Twin Cities, Fiz and his club Viejos Son Los Trapos FC are looking to build a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
VSLT’s origin is similar to that of North Conference opponents Duluth FC and Minneapolis City; Viejos began as a men’s league team, and after finding success, decided to try its hand at the regional (and national) level in the NPSL.
“We have Hmong, African, Muslim players. This country was made by immigrants, and our club is open to anyone”
Founded in 2013 as several of the club’s original members were teased about their advancing years by other Latino players, the club’s name is taken from an Argentinian phrase that literally translates as “old are the rags.” Its figurative meaning is a refutation of being past one’s prime — that only the team’s jerseys are aged.
Joining the Minnesota Amateur Soccer League in 2014, VSLT pulled off an undefeated season, earning promotion from the MASL’s fourth division to its third. In 2015 the club secured another divisional championship, and were promoted to the MASL’s second division. Last summer, VSLT won its third MASL division in as many years and boasted a plus-32 goal differential over 18 games.
Now, in addition to competing in the MASL’s first division — the top men’s amateur league in the state — Viejos will also try its hand in the NPSL’s new North Conference.
Lest anyone think the decision to join the NPSL was rash, in addition to Fiz, VSLT has recruited several NPSL veterans. Angel Riera and Raul Guzman are former teammates of Fiz, all previously members of the now-defunct Minnesota Kings, which played in the NPSL in 2010 and 2011.
VSLT has also rostered several former TwinStars. Asked about facing the team he previously captained, Fiz said, “It makes me remember the good times, and the people there. But when I’m on the field, I don’t remember who I’ve played with, most of the time.”
In addition to signing familiar faces from the NPSL and men’s leagues around the Twin Cities, VSLT’s open tryouts drew well over 100 players looking to join the club. “I was impressed with a lot of kids at tryouts,” said Fiz. “It was so hard for me to cut over 120 guys.”
One player who made that cut is 20-year-old forward Francisco Ochoa Garcia.
“I had my eye on him during tryouts, and was impressed by his movement. I asked him how old he was, and he said, ’20.'” recalled Fiz. “He brings a number of good things, but then, you have to start to polish them.”
This season, players like Ochoa Garcia will have ample opportunity to learn from Viejos’ veterans. The aforementioned Riera was singled out by Fiz. A midfielder possessing notable vision and at ease with the ball at his feet, Riera is known to hold his teammates to a high standard.
“Sometimes he gets frustrated when people don’t play the right balls. He wants to do everything perfectly — a perfectionist,” Fiz said. “I was talking to him about joining us before I knew we were going to the NPSL.”
Riera was lured away from Minneapolis City’s parent organization Stegman’s after playing with the latter in the MASL.
“There’s a lot of talent [in the Twin Cities]. I don’t judge any coaches. It’s tough to decide between 30 guys who’s going to be in the starting XI,” stated Fiz. “For a player, when you have an opportunity, just take it. [Riera] is taking his opportunity to play here, now.”
With its roster assembled, VSLT has been hard at work trying to blend veteran craft and young legs. Fiz and head coach Gilberto Mendez are proponents of possession-based play, and emphasize the collective over the individual.
“We’re working on possession and patience. We can’t just press for 90 minutes, or only go forward for 90 minutes, or we’re not going to finish the game the same way we started,” said Fiz. “We’ll risk the ball to play out of the back from defense to the midfield, because I trust the guys at the back. When you have possession, you’re not conceding goals, and you can score at any minute. And whether you win 1-0 or 3-0, it’s three points anyway.”
VSLT, unarguably, draws heavily from the Twin Cities’ Latino population, but Fiz makes a point of noting its keeping with the club’s motto, El Equipo de Todos (Everybody’s Team).
“It’s mostly Latino players from the Cities, there’s no doubt about that, but we also had an open tryout, and I was really surprised at the response. We have Hmong, African, Muslim players. This country was made by immigrants, and our club is open to anyone.”
In order to build cohesion, Fiz has handed down the requirement that Viejos’ players be available to train two-to-three times a week.
“Whomever is a part of this project is going to take part in training, and be part of a group,” Fiz stated. “I have the same philosophy for everyone, and I believe that if you are playing at this level, we are all on this level.”
Some of that focus on hard work has naturally turned towards the dawn of a new season, and Saturday’s season opener against Minneapolis City. Fiz is confident his team is ready for their first competitive match as an NPSL side, but like Tom Petty, has found that the waiting is the hardest part.
“We’ve been practicing in snow, in rain, in cold weather. Getting the uniforms, everyone is excited. Now we’re just anxious to play. That’s the hard part to control about the guys.” Fiz affirmed, “As a team we are ready.”
Fans turning up to James Griffin Stadium — affectionately known to Minnesota Thunder fans as the Jimmy — may be in for a surprise when attending their first VSLT game. The club does not plan on charging admission this season.
“I say that the season is a success if we’re playing good soccer, and we bring out people who fall in love with the team.”
Gameday revenue, largely driven by ticket sales, tends to make up a significant portion of many NPSL clubs’ total revenue. Fiz offered explanation for Viejos’ unique approach.
“We’re very new. If people want to come back to watch us play, it will be because they’ve seen a good show. I want to bring people in, and we’ll collaborate with our sponsors. I think that’s a better approach than saying, ‘Okay, we’re here, we’re a semi-pro team and you have to pay to watch our game.’ Our first year, I think we have to attract people in a different way.”
Fiz and company have done an admirable job finding sponsors, and the club’s website lists Country Financial, Power and Finesse Fitness, Pancho Villa (restaurant), Radiance Spine Injury and Wellness Center, Teresa’s Mexican Restaurant, and Loco 4 Rehab among its business partners.
Asked how he would define success for VSLT in its first NPSL season, Fiz answered, “Getting people to come and support the team. That’s what I’m looking for. I say that the season is a success if we’re playing good soccer, and we bring out people who fall in love with the team.”
“I don’t say I have the best team, I don’t say I have the worst team. It’s going to be a process,” said Fiz, looking ahead. “I believe we have enough experience on the field to put on a good show.”
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