Soccer has been a big part of the Central Valley, and the admiration for the sport has hit an all-time high with the introduction of the professional soccer club, Fresno FC.
In March, during Fresno FC’s opening night against the Las Vegas Lights at Chukchansi Park, the team brought in a record-setting attendance of nearly 8,000 fans, and this number is expected to grow.
There are also more children playing the sport in the U.S. As of 2012, more than 30 percent of American households had someone who played soccer, making it second only to baseball.
Soccer is also creating a new fan base. Despite the sport’s popularity, you can’t find a varsity men’s soccer team at Fresno State.
The last time Fresno State had a men’s soccer team was 2003 – 15 years ago.
Fresno State men’s soccer, which started in 1970, had major success in the 1970s and 1980s with many conference titles and playoff appearances.
The soccer team ranked No.1 in the nation in 1987, becoming the first program to ever do so in Fresno State’s history.
The Bulldogs continued their success into the 1990s. Although not as successful as previous decades, the men’s soccer team managed to win conference championships in 1996 and 1998.
Slowly the attendance began to drop in the 2000s, and in 2004, the men’s soccer program was cut for issues relating to Title IX.
A men’s soccer club was created to try and fill the void. However, a club team is not the same as having an actual program to compete in the top division of the NCAA.
The one thing that has been keeping Fresno State soccer fans entertained has been women’s soccer, which has remained active throughout these years.
With the World Cup happening this summer, the sport will be getting a lot of attention, even without the participation of the U.S., and this would make it a great time to bring back the program.
Fresno State brought back the wrestling program this year, which was initially pulled in the early 2000s.
Men’s soccer programs at Fresno Pacific and Fresno City College have shown that there is a fan base and local talent here to build a successful program.
It feels like this is the right time for the men’s soccer program to make a comeback at Fresno State. But there are some challenges that will most likely prevent this. One of the biggest: the athletics’ department has serious budget issues.
Another challenge is that there is no permanent athletic director appointed yet at Fresno State, and that can complicate the process of getting the program back on track.
And if Fresno State brings back men’s soccer, which women’s sport could the university add? Think about Title IX.
It’s very unlikely that men’s soccer will return. It feels like the right moment though. Soccer fans at Fresno State should not lose hope.