I didn’t know him incredibly well, but if you knew RIchard, you know that he did not have to know you well in order to help you or offer assistance in almost any form. I met Richard in 2006, after having just finished my second year as head coach of the Alisal High School Boys’ J.V. Soccer Team. I will always remember Richard as a kind man, with pure intentions. His legacy will live on in Salinas, and I truly believe, due to his lasting impression on youth in the Salinas community, that one of the new soccer fields in the developing soccer complex in Salinas, be named after Richard Mussellman. It would be well-deserved.
On March 20, 2020, our local soccer community lost an important figure in Ricahrd Mussellman, a great man and advocate for kids’ soccer in the Salinas Valley area. As the one time president of the then El Camino Real Football Club, Richard was an iconic figure in the area. Throughout his years of involvement in youth soccer in the Salinas Valley area, Richard helped a countless number of kids achieve their dreams of playing club soccer, and in doing so, gave kids greater exposure and lasting memories. In fact, it could be said that Richard, himself, helped launch club soccer in the Salinas area.
The following is the true story of how Ricahrd and I met.
I was in room 550 at Alisal High School, working one-on-one with a kid in after-school tutorials. The soccer season had just ended, so it was nice to get back to working with kids to improve their grades. At one point, a tall man entered the classroom. He was a big, husky guy with a pretty easy demeanor. He smiled as he entered. “Are you Mark Cisneros? The J.V. soccer coach?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “How are you? How can I help you?” Richard introduced himself and then said something that kind of scared me. He said, “My team played your J.V. team this past weekend.” I was startled because the season had ended and it would’ve been illegal for the Alisal team to continue playing beyond the normal high school season. Luckily, it turned out that Richard’s team had played our salinas soccer league team, except that I was not there on that day. Anyway, Richard proceeded. “That is the best soccer team I have ever seen at that age. They killed my team (I believe he said my guys beat his team, 10-1). I kind of laughed and said, “Yeah, they’re pretty good. We only gave up four goals this year and didn’t lose a game for the second year in a row. We gave up seven goals last year.” I wasn’t bragging. I was speaking from a great sense of pride in my boys. After some other comments, Richard said, “You know, they should come play for El Camino Real.” I had no idea what Richard was talking about. “What is El Camino?” I asked. “It’s a travel soccer team,” Richard Said. “We train and travel to other cities to play other teams.” I had a vague idea of what travel soccer was, and most of what I had heard about it was negative, mainly because of the ridiculous fees clubs charged for a kid to just play soccer. My response to Richard was, “Nah, man. Sorry. My guys don’t have the money to play travel soccer. It’s pretty expensive.” Richard answered quickly. “No, no! They won’t pay. I’ll pay for everything. They don’t have to worry about that” What I was hearing was intriguing but almost too good to be true. “Where do you guys train?” I asked. Richard said, “We train in Gilroy. That’s where our club is.” Right then I knew it was going to be almost impossible for my guys to play. I said, “Oh, man! There’s no way my guys can get to Gilroy to practice. Their parents work late and the kids don’t drive or have rides.” Richard smiled and said, “We will pick them up every Tuesday and Thursday from Alisal High School and we’ll drop them off, too.” Wait! What? Now, it was definitely too good to be true! I was definitely intrigued, and the thought of the guys playing club soccer was pretty exciting. Knowing what I know now, a lot of coaches would’ve probably said “No” for fear of losing their players, but when a great opportunity comes along for any kid, it’s important for us to help them reach out for it. “Let me talk to the parents and share this information with them. I’ll get back to you,” I said to Richard. We exchanged contact info and he left. Little did we know that what had just happened in room 550, would go on to become a pivotal moment for club soccer in Salinas.
Meanwhile, I was excited to share the news with the boys the next day. I told them what had happened and about Richard. Once they knew, we had a parents’ meeting so I could share the info with them. I called the parents that could not attend. The parents saw value in the opportunity and the boys were thrilled at the opportunity. They didn’t know that they would be in for the ride of their lives.
In the end, Richard was completely true to his word, 100%. He transported the kids back and forth from Alisal High School every Tuesday and Thursday. He bought the boys dinner, too, paid all their fees, bought them cleats, and paid for their hotels when they traveled. When I needed a van, RIchard simply put the keys underneath the mat on his porch, and I returned it when we were done with it. Again, I didn’t know him well, but he went out of his way to help where and when he could, even if you weren’t his best friend.
That year, he took some of my best, young players, guys that help the school win its first ever Central Coast Section Championship in 2010:
Joni Cruz (CCS Champ)
Carlos “Charlie” Ortiz (CCS Champ)
Eduardo “Lalo” Hernandez (CCS Champ)
Armando Serrano (CCS Champ)
Ivan Manzano (CCS Champ)
Santos Oritz (CCS Champ)
Augustin Martinez (CCS Champ)
Edgar Prieto (CCS Champ)
In the years that followed, Richard and El Camino Real moved their operations to Salinas, and more and more kids, not only from Alisal, but from the other high schools in Salinas, were introduced to club soccer, many for the first time. Today, El Camino Real is still in existence under a different name, but Richard’s impact on youth soccer is still felt today.
During that time, in 2006, club soccer was pretty well known in the San Jose area, as well as in other larger cities and counties. It was also known then, as it is now, that access to club soccer wasn’t always attainable to some kids, mainly because it was pretty pricey. Thus, a lot of kids from low-income families and/or under-served areas were priced out. The bad side for clubs was that they weren’t necessarily getting the best players. Instead, they were getting the players that could afford to pay the high fees to kick a ball around.
This changed when Richard rolled into my classroom. All of sudden, club soccer was a real possibility for every kid in Salinas, and they flocked to the opportunity. Richard and El Camino Real made it possible for hundreds of kids to travel all across the state, region, and country to experience the game on many different levels. It was truly a beautiful thing.
On another level, the experience of playing year-round, against teams that our guys would not normally play against, was awesome. I had been the J.V. coach for Alisal for two-years, and I had a first-hand view of the varsity team. I saw the varsity team train and compete regularly for two-years. They were always good locally, but when they traveled to San Jose, it didn’t always go well. I attributed this to a couple of things. One, the San Jose kids played on the same team all year long. Many went to the same high schools, and when that season was over, they would return to their clubs where they were all on the same teams there. In terms of recognition and chemistry, this is a huge advantage for any team. Knowing how your teammates think and being familiar with their tendencies provides a huge advantage in the game of soccer. In contrast, the Alisal guys returned to their Sunday teams, with most kids playing on different teams. There was local pride in these teams, rightfully so, and many are drawn to them by family members who’ve also played for the same Sunday team for generations, so it was in the blood. As a result of this dynamic, however, in Salinas, usually the only time the best high school soccer players played on the same team was during their high school seasons, for four-months out of the year. Once the final whistle blew on that season, it was off to their Sunday teams.
Another reason I believe that Alisal kids had a hard time in San Jose is because they lacked the mental toughness that comes from playing against tough teams all year-round. The kids from Mitty and Bellarmine were big and physical, characteristics not usually associated with our guys at Alisal. The teams in San Jose liked to talk trash, too, sometimes spewing racial epithets as the games went on. This had a negative impact on the minds of our players. They never really had to deal with this sort of stuff in the local areas. I personally have had players tell me to take them out of the game because the opposition got in their heads. It was interesting and I knew it needed to be addressed.
This is where club soccer bridged the gap. All of sudden, the Alisal players were playing against the Mitty guys and the Bellarmine guys and the De La Salle guys on a weekly basis with El Camino Real. They were gaining valuable experience against these guys. They were hearing the trash talk and taking the blows. They got used to it and learned to work through it. This made my job easier, as I knew from watching the varsity team for two-years, that we needed to toughen up mentally. And we did! When the guys returned to high school soccer, they were seasoned players that had already seen many of the players we were facing in our Alisal season, and they were not phased by any of them. We focused on keeping quiet and playing the game the right way. They boys were taught to let their actions speak for themselves. It’s no wonder that the group of players that Richard opened the El Camino Real doors to were the same group of players that lifted the first ever CCS trophy for Alisal High School! We found ourselves in a win/win situation.
It was a fun time then. The boys were genuinely happy to be playing soccer, and many are still very close friends today. Many earned soccer scholarships to universities across the nation. Many are now married, too, with kids and full-time jobs. A ton have gone on to earn four-year degrees, with many others becoming cops and nurses and probation officers. A few are even coaching youth teams, giving back to their community. It was a special time. I don’t know if the clubs in Salinas are keeping soccer affordable for kids, but I believe that in the name and spirit of Richard Mussellman, they more than likely are.
Richard was a champion for community based, grass roots soccer. As the Director of Coaching for the Monterey County Condors Soccer Club, our club is doing our best to honor Richard’s legacy by helping make soccer accessible to as many kids as possible. Viva el futbol!
This is dedicated to Richard Mussellman. Thank you for all you have done for our youth. May you Rest in Peace.
P.S. I would also like to dedicate this to Joseph Cairel. He passed away a few days ago. He was the son of a family for which I have great respect. Artie Sr., gave me my first ever opportunity at coaching youth soccer. I hope that the Cairel Family can find the strength and courage to get them through this difficult time. Rest in Peace, Joseph!
Opportunity Program Teacher
Head Boys’ Varsity Soccer Coach
Alisal High School