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Section 1 SP 15, Spring 2015, Tyler Becker

San Diego Sockers work hard, play harder

“If I am doing three hours and it’s playing something I love every day… not the worst thing in the world” - Mike Mercuriali Photo by Tyler Becker
“If I am doing (soccer) three hours and it’s playing something I love every day… not the worst thing in the world.” – Mike Mercuriali

SAN DIEGO – The most successful professional sports team in San Diego may not be who you think it is. Topping the list is not the Chargers, not the Padres, but the 14-time indoor soccer champion San Diego Sockers. The Sockers are a storied franchise in the indoor soccer scene, but despite being the most victorious team in the county, the team does not always get the credit they deserve.

Timeline 1: The San Diego Sockers began playing indoor soccer in 1980 and had great success to start. After multiple attempted comebacks, the Sockers are now a staple in the Major Arena Soccer League, winning the championship in their first four seasons back in the league.

Timeline 1: The San Diego Sockers began playing indoor soccer in 1980 and had great success at first. After multiple attempted comebacks, the Sockers are now a staple in the Major Arena Soccer League, winning the championship in their first four seasons back in the league.

With an average attendance of over 3,000 fans per game since their revival in 2009, more than the Pacific division average, the Sockers have tallied nearly enough championship rings to fill one hand. But even with that success, playing in a league with less attention and interest than other major sports can make things difficult on the team and players. One disadvantage these athletes have is the lack of funding for their sport, meaning they must work just as hard off the field as they do on, in order to make a living.

Success between and beyond the boards

With a club of guys from all around the world, the Sockers’ players pursue an array of careers outside the sport. From coaching youth soccer to selling real estates, the team has quite the cast of characters.

One player who puts in extra effort to get on the field also puts in some of the most dedicated work outside of the game.

“Mike has to battle to make our starting lineup,” said Craig Elsten, San Diego Sockers media relations director, of Sockers’ defender Mike Mercuriali. “He works at Prime Sports a sports apparel distributor. We often work with them to get uniforms made.”

Sockers’ player Mardney Almeida “Ney” Felix attempted the acrobatic bicycle kick in the playoffs against the Las Vegas Legends. Photo by Tyler Becker.

Sockers’ player Mardney Almeida “Ney” Felix attempted the acrobatic bicycle kick in the playoffs against the Las Vegas Legends.

Mercuriali, a San Diego native and San Diego State University alumni, has been with the Sockers organization since 2009 and was placed in the starting rotation in 2013. With options to go to other places, Mercuriali did not think twice about his opportunity with the Sockers.

“I made a decision that the dream was to play professionally,” said Mercuriali on his decision to stay in San Diego. “What I really wanted was to be in San Diego, be around family and friends.”

After making a name for himself in the Sockers organization, Mercuriali knew he had to find another form of income, and that is where an old Italian friend of his came into play.

“He was one of my students, I was a science teacher during the time I started this business,” said Vince Maruca, owner of Prime Sports in Chula Vista. “Being Italian, we kind of bonded over soccer. And just knowing him through the years I thought he would be a great salesman.”

Prime Sports specializes in customizable athletic clothing. Ranging from personalized items to high school apparel, representatives like Mercuriali are busy dealing with high demands from clients, similar to the on-field demands from the Sockers.

“Sometimes scheduling is not perfect,” said Mercuriali. “But we manage to get through all of it.”

MULTIMEDIA: With dedication to both his work and play, Mercuriali explains the success he has in holding both positions.

 

Sockers’ not big bucks deal

Coach Phil Salvagio (middle) preparing Mercuriali (left), Evan McNeley (right) and other members of the Sockers for their playoff matchup. Photo by Tyler Becker.

Coach Phil Salvagio (middle) preparing Mercuriali (left), Evan McNeley (right) and other members of the Sockers for their playoff matchup.

One of the main reasons many of the Sockers have other jobs away from the game is because the financial pull from an indoor season is just too small to sustain living.

“They get paid pretty decent, during the season,” said Sockers’ Coach Phil Salvagio. “But that’s it, during the season. We only play four months, so they only get paid for four months.”

The income for Major Arena Soccer League players is far less than that of players from other major sports.

“You know you don’t get paid as much as the basketball or the baseball or even the professional outdoor teams,” said Mercuriali on the state of the league. “A lot of it is based off of demands.”

On average, an indoor player will make around $6,000 over a four month period, but some are more fortunate.

Graph 1: Other professional leagues from around the country pay their athletes in the millions. MLS, MASL’s outdoor comparison, averages $200,000, while MASL averages roughly $6,000 a season. Source: BusinessInsider.com

“Some make fifteen, sixteen thousand in four months,” said Salvagio. “Not bad, for four months. But you can’t live off that all year round.”

Those are only the highly successful, star athletes reaching that pay grade, not players on some of the less competitive teams. But in the end, Mercuriali made one thing clear; to him, this game is bigger than the paycheck.

“It’s about the passion,” he said about the sport he loves to play. “It’s about what Phil had said to us in the beginning… It’s not like he is getting rich off the deal either… I hope that people understand that it’s not really a money thing.”

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