Fresno FC has been practicing at Fresno Pacific University to gear up for its home opener at Chukchansi Park in Fresno on Saturday. Photo by Edward Smith
Written by Edward Smith
A couple of the players on Fresno’s newest soccer team, the Foxes, told Fresno Football Club owner Ray Beshoff they’d be excited to play in the rain on Saturday.
The forecast on Saturday calls for a 20 percent chance of rain, but for Beshoff, owner of Mercedes-Benz of Fresno, the prospect of the team’s first-ever game —and all the work that has gone into building the team — is cause for excitement and some nerves.
On Saint Patrick’s Day, the Fresno FC Foxes will face off against the Las Vegas Lights at Chukchansi Stadium at 7 p.m.
For the past week, the team has been practicing nearly everyday at Fresno Pacific University in the lead-up to their first home appearance.
“People love soccer. It’s the No. 1 sport in the world. It’s not that for no reason,” Beshoff said.
Beshoff made the leap into team ownership thinking that Fresno and the Central Valley lacked professional teams. The area had everything he thought a professional soccer team needed — a city with few sports teams, a big Hispanic market and an enthusiasm to support an emerging sports franchise.
“Once the fans get educated as to what the game’s all about, the tribal element of the fans is what’s the exciting part.
Beshoff predicts that that excitement will spread through the Central Valley.
When he watched an exhibition game played at Chukchansi Park between two Mexican teams Beshoff saw that it drew in thousands, but it didn’t invoke the kind of tribalism Beshoff knows from the matches he grew up with in Liverpool, England. He hopes the Foxes will be able to tap into that energy.
“The colors are Fresno’s. The fox is Fresno—it’s the indigenous animal to Fresno,” Beshoff said. “Now, when the Mexican teams come in, they will play us. That will give the community the chance to see how do we do against a top-quality Mexican team or a top-quality English team.”
The team didn’t walk into the investment blindly. They did their research and found that the Fresno Fuego, the amateur team that had amassed a huge cult following, not only won the 2017 Premiere Development League’s Franchise of the Year award, but also appeared five times in the course of its history at the Western Conference finals.
“They had 3,000 people average in the six games they played at home,” Beshoff said. “That showed me that there’s definitely a soccer market here. That was actually one of the reasons why I thought Fresno would be a good pro soccer team.”
It didn’t take long for Beshoff to bring the Fuego as well as the Fresno Freeze—the women’s soccer team who now play as the Fresno Ladies—under the Fresno FC banner.
With a handful of players from the Fuego and even more from around the globe, the team will now compete in the United Soccer League, the country’s second division league that itself is competing to be the best second division in the world.
According to Beshoff, the standards for team ownership are attracting the kind of talent that makes for really tough competition, but he feels his general manager, Frank Yallop, himself a former soccer player as well as coach, has assembled a team that can compete at that level.
Beshoff brought on Yallop as the team’s general manager from a head-coaching job with the San Jose Earthquakes.
“I’ve been around the game a long time. My experience in the game is going to show in the office and in the field,” said Yallop.
Yallop, who has been playing since he was 16 and has seen all sides of the game, feels he has a staff that’s ready to tap into what he sees as an exploding sport in the United States.
“The game is growing so quickly in this country,” Yallop said. “When you look at the USL attendance, the numbers are growing so quickly.”
While the team’s front office won’t discuss what their projections are for attendance, the staff feels they are equipped to reach their goals.
For the next two years, the team will be playing at Chukchansi Stadium, but after that, the decision is up in the air.
“It’s a nice stadium, the new Grizzlies owners are really great to work with,” Beshoff said. “I like them a lot, but it’s still a baseball stadium, not a soccer stadium.”
As a startup, the first year is the biggest barometer for any company, and there are a couple things that would reassure Beshoff he made the right decision.
“If we get to the playoffs, we’ll be really good,” Beshoff said. “The thing that would make me the happiest is if the fans are 100 percent supportive of the team. If we have a really good fan base that we can count on for future-year support, that’s the thing that would make me the happiest.”