Leo Pellegrini has been running the Hoboken City Futbol Club for 15 years. Here are the numbers: The club boasts 34 teams with 476 players, boys and girls, ages 8 to 18, on separate teams. Ninety percent of the kids are from Hoboken. More than 60 parents volunteer as referees and assistant coaches. They also provide the uniforms. The city of Hoboken provides the field at Sinatra Park.
“It’s absolutely exploded in the last couple of years,” Pellegrini says. A main reason for the “explosive” success of the club is its association with the professional Red Bulls, who play at Red Bull Stadium in Harrison.
“They get good professional training with the Red Bull development program,” Pellegrini says.
Unless you’ve been held captive in a cave for the last three decades, you know that professional soccer is finally making headway (so to speak) in the United States. It’s wildly popular in Europe, South America, and many other places around the globe, but in this country has lagged behind the three behemoths of American football, baseball, and basketball.
“Americans are catching up,” Pellegrini says. “During the last World Cup, people were out in bars in Hoboken watching the game. There was excitement when they went to the next round. Everyone coming out of the bars was cheering and screaming.”
What accounts for soccer’s popularity?
“It’s something simple to play,” Pellegrini says. “If you start training kids at a young age, it’s a fun, friendly type of exercise. Kids gravitate to it.”
In fact, so many Hoboken kids want to play that one of the main problems is space. They currently play at Fifth and Sinatra Drive. But, Pellegrini says, “We need more fields.”
The Hoboken Futbol Club is part of the Northern County Soccer Association. Pellegrini is proud that the league boasts the highest number of girls’ teams.
With the awesome United States Women’s National Soccer team, girls have lots of role models. “We have significant girls’ teams for every age group,” Pellegrini says.
The club has two seasons. Fall runs from September through November, and spring runs from March to the middle of June. In winter, they still play outside, weather permitting.
“The players are passionate about the game,” Pellegrini says. “It’s changed a bit, too, since the professional leagues have been on TV in the United States. There are more games, and kids have someone to look up to.”
Which is where the Red Bulls come in. A cherished perk is that the kids attend Red Bulls matches.
Says Pellegrini: “Our affiliation with a professional team providing the training is very exciting for them.”—Kate Rounds