The NPSL has announced the addition of one of US Soccer’s most historic clubs, El Farolito. Since the 80’s, El Farolito has been a dominant force in the oldest soccer league in the country, the San Francisco Soccer Football League (SFSFL). The Club is also one of the last amateur teams to lift the US Open Cup, doing so back in 1993. El Farolito was founded by the owner of one of the most popular taquerías in San Francisco Mission district. The Club gets its name from the Taquería, and keeps all of their silverware in the bar next door. They are the current defending SFSFL champions, having won the 115th SFSFL title at the beginning of October.
I previously met up with El Farolito Head Coach and General Manager Santiago Lopez back in April, ahead of their first round US Open Cup match, to talk about the entire history of the club, including an in depth look at the 1993 Open Cup Championship team. That story can be found here.
This time, I once again sat down with Santiago Lopez, ahead of their official announcement and move to join the NPSL.
MP: We’ve talked before, and I’m going to include the long interview we did. Could you give a short version of the history of El Farolito?
SL: Yeah, so the team was started in ‘85, thanks to the founder of Taqueria El Farolito, Salvador Lopez, and he ended up getting a 3rd division team in the San Francisco League and they ended up getting promotion within 5 years to the SFSFL Premiere League. They won a couple of State Cups in the ’90’s and eventually ended up winning the US Open Cup in 1993.
MP: What is it about the NPSL as a League that interested the Club most?
SL: The NPSL is a great structure and League where you can start locally playing teams like Academica now, and Davis. These are teams you normally don’t play in the San Francisco League. So, you get to go out and put your team in different situations and experiences playing in different stadiums, and eventually if you qualify, we get to play in other states. I think that is really important for the development of my players, to get them out of their comfort zone. NPSL is a good step for the Club to start putting our name out there and playing more competitive teams throughout the country. We could get to travel more and experience those types of situations.
MP: Will you be keeping a team in the SFSFL at the same time, or will you be pulling out of the SFSFL?
SL: That is something the owner will still have to decide. Right now, the only thing we know for sure is that we are going to be entering the NPSL, and we are still currently in the SFSFL.
MP: What venue will you be playing at? Will you be playing at Boxer?
SL: Yep, that is correct. We are right now with Parks and Rec just waiting for the schedule and everything like that. But we know we will have Boxer Stadium on Saturday mornings.
MP: What is special about the SF Soccer community? You have the Deltas win a title and possibly fold, but the SFSFL has so much history, having been around since 1902. There are the Seals, who have done some special things too, and clubs like yours, who have won the Open Cup. What about the SF Soccer community is special to you?
SL: The community is just so diverse here. There is a big Latin community, a big European community, American and everything. The area is just massive. You can spread the word around and a lot of people will look to come to games. The people here just love soccer. We just need more serious organizations and more professional teams involved in the area so we can motivate the kids in the area to set up goals and in the future, have academies where there is a way to go up to those levels. Because right now there is a lot of talent, and there has always been talent in the San Francisco Bay Area, but sometimes because of the system, those players end up staying in the Bay Area. But also, a lot of the talented players I’ve witnessed end up going to Europe or Latin America to develop their skills.
MP: You seem to run the Club as Coach and President. What are all the roles you play and who else will be helping you?
SL: As of right now I am just the General Manager and Head Coach for the Club in the NPSL. I will have to sit down with the owner and have to see what are their ideas and plans for the SFSFL, and who will be in charge of that, or if I will do it because the NPSL will be Saturdays and the SFSFL will be Sundays. So basically I would have no more life. It would be tough, but if they gave me that position I would try and do it the best that I can, and I would be more than honored to do that.
MP: Is Salvador Lopez the current sole owner and investor of the Club?
SL: Yes, that is correct.
MP: Can you talk a little about your background in coaching and how long you have been part of El Farolito?
SL: My first coaching experience I started [was] with a little 9-year old girl’s team in Belmont, about 10 years ago, called the Gryphons Soccer Club. I was there for a couple of months and had a great time, but I instead decided to just keep playing soccer and I ended up playing with the Seals and the Glens at the time with Tom Simpson. So I ended up putting the coaching aside for a little bit. But when I stopped playing soccer I had heard about El Farolito because I also work for the company, and I was told they weren’t doing very good that season and the coach wasn’t going to stay there, and I just stepped up and said if you need anything I’m here, and if you need some help I can take over the team whenever you need, as a temporary coach just until you find someone maybe more prepared. That’s what ended up happening, and I just took over temporarily and I ended up taking over the team. It’s been great. Just having the experience of every single game every Sunday in just totally different situations, I’ve learned so much compared to just watching soccer on TV. Talking and working with these players, every single week in trainings, dealing with injuries and personal issues etcetera, just so many things go on when running a soccer team. I think this is the most amazing preparation that anyone could take at any level, just having the experience of being there every single Sunday.
MP: What is the long-term vision for the Club, now moving into the NPSL? It is a Club with a lot of history.
SL: Well first off, we need to adapt as soon as possible to the system, to the calendar, to the travel, and to the new teams we will be playing in the region. So our main focus right now is to adapt as quick as possible and try to make the playoffs. We definitely want to try and be part of that end group and the final stages of the competition this year and try and play against teams from the East Coast, just like Aguiluchos did last season. Seeing their run and knowing the president, Roger [Amaya] who is a great person and an excellent man of soccer, a person who loves the game, and he just does a lot of things right. So, after seeing what they are doing, it has just [been] really inspiring and something that we look forward to also trying to do or even better.
MP: Where does your player pool come from? And how much of the NPSL team will be made up of your SFSFL Championship team?
SL: Yeah, right now we don’t actually know what [is] going to happen with the players we have. Some are still going to try their luck in Latin America and maybe go try out professionally in the 2nd or 3rd tier of Mexico, and Central America, and even Brazil. I’ve heard from some of the guys that they are talking about that. But right now, I’m really open to everyone. I don’t know how I’m going to do it yet, but I really want to spread the word out and have some tryout and invite some local kids to be part of this and try and represent the team nationally and eventually represent the League in other ways.
MP: Is there anything else you would like the readers of Midfield Press to know?
SL: Just that we really look forward to working with all these teams. Just because we are playing against them, people think they should be rivals. We just want to be another team to support the game in this country and in the Bay Area. We just want to work together with everybody and create new relationships and just have a positive impact on everybody. Win or lose, we are very fortunate to be doing what we love and we just want to be another club that is respected. We want everyone to know we are here to do our best and try to do what’s best for the game. I also wanted to give a thanks to Jef Thiffault and Benno Nagel. Benno was the one who introduced me to all the people at the NPSL and Jef Thiffault has been really helpful guiding me through all of this. We have been working really hard since February and he has helped us the entire way.