San Juan’s Soccer Sports Plex opens up possibilities

Ray Ramirez, from Morgan Hill, maintains the grass on the 32 acres of land that includes six soccer fields at the new Soccer Sport Plex on Betabel Road off U.S. 101 in San Juan Bautista.

Having played soccer for more than 40 years, the 47-year-old Giuliano Santini wanted to give his son the same opportunity in the sport he loves. But once his son reached the age of 6, Santini had trouble finding the right fit for a club soccer team.

Nearly three years later – after spending years traveling to either Santa Cruz or San Jose for competitive soccer – Santini has taken the search into his own hands, developing the Soccer Sports Plex off the Betabel Road exit near San Juan Bautista.

In August, the Italian-born Hollister resident bought a 32-acre piece of land with business partner Fabian Martinez, 29, between San Juan Bautista and Gilroy for the sole purpose of creating a haven for soccer fans. Nearly nine months later, the two have turned the grassland into six soccer fields with goals of further expansion.

The goal is simply to create an affordable soccer program that will help kids develop their skills on a competitive level, while traveling throughout the state for tournaments. And of course, they hope to hold countless tournaments on the facility.

“I found out in our area the only thing we had was the Morgan Hill complex,” Santini said. “It’s really expensive. It’s really catered to people who can pay that amount of money. I wanted to make something more affordable for the rest of the community. For the kids who can’t afford it. The kids who we can sponsor ourselves or have companies sponsor them. Somewhere where the kids can be safe and create an academy, which you don’t have south of San Jose.”

A successful academy, which will train and cultivate players for traveling club teams, is something that the pair are aiming for. Named GSA, the program hopes to get kids ready for college and off the couch.

“We can create a development program for kids,” said Martinez, who owns Super Soccer in Watsonville. “They are most of the time playing Wii or PS3 and not doing exercises. Instead of being at home watching TV, they can be here playing. That’s the most important thing. We have the space for (something) we can create for our community. That’s really nice for me.”

So far the program is slowly building. After just opening its doors in January, 12 athletes make up its academy. But its goals are much grander.

“Our hope is to create a really big-name academy,” Martinez said. “That we can compete not just in the area but also in other states with our club. With our academy, we build soccer in this area and try to be the biggest one in the area. We are talking about family development and competitive development. It’s not just to have fun; we want to be really competitive.”

And ultimately open up possibilities for soccer players in the community, Santini said.

“We want to be able to the really skilled and talented kids,” he said. “Maybe send them to a team in Mexico or send them to a team in Argentina. We have that type of connection, that we can eventually send a really talented kid for the summer to train on a real club – on a club that has been around for 100 years.”

But it will take some time to build the program to where they want, he realized.

“We are starting this out of nothing,” Santini said. “They have nothing to offer in Hollister. We want to grab kids from Gilroy, Hollister, Morgan Hill and Watsonville, and create something big.”

And the complex will host its biggest tournament yet on May 4 and 5. The NorCal California Youth Soccer Association tournament will bring nearly 70 teams from across the state.

The complex also can hold other sports such as rugby and eventually indoor soccer, Martinez said.

“We have the opportunity to do something really big here,” he said. “It’s already much bigger than we expected.”

For more information, call Santini at (408) 427-2295.