Former futbal pro is avid football fan

Manuel Garcia’s first love in sports was futbol, not football.

An Everett police sergeant, Garcia played goalie in the late 1960s for Cruz Azul, a professional soccer team in Mexico City. In recent years, he has organized the annual Casino Road Futbol Academy, a kids’ weeklong soccer camp at Everett’s Walter E. Hall Park.

Garcia, 64, said some fervent soccer fans wonder why the American game is even called football. “The only person who touches the ball with his foot is the kicker,’” Garcia said.

But on this Super Bowl Sunday, even a pro futbol veteran is a big-time Seahawks fan, and so are others who also love soccer.

“Bottom line, every sport can be a thrilling sport,” said Garcia, who has been with the Everett Police Department 26 years.

Seattle didn’t have an NFL team when Garcia moved from Mexico to San Diego in 1973. The Seahawks were launched in 1976. Before moving to the Northwest, he rooted for the San Diego Chargers. “I do remember the Seahawks playing the Chargers,” he said. “The Seahawks were a relatively new expansion team. I liked them, they were a colorful team — Kenny Easley, Steve Largent, Steve Raible, Efren Herrera and on and on.”

Still loyal to his first love in sports, Garcia enjoys the intense competition he sees at Seattle Sounders FC games. “Once a futboler, forever a futboler,” he said.

Yet his plans this weekend include that spirited American tradition — a Super Bowl party. In the life of this fan, there’s room for both sports, plus Seattle Mariners baseball.

Like soccer, Garcia said, baseball requires an understanding of nuances to appreciate the game. A low-score soccer game means great defense, and in baseball it’s the result of fine pitching. “If you understand it, it’s exciting,” Garcia said.

More than 500 kids, ages 6 to 14, attended the Casino Road Futbol Academy last summer. The 2014 camp was the sixth year the Everett Police Department had been officially involved, but Garcia ran an earlier version for several years. Many participants in the free camp come from Spanish-speaking homes, and the cost of organized sports is a barrier for some families.

“I never envisioned it being this big,” Garcia said. “Thanks to the police department and so many in the business community, they have made it what it is today.”

Marco Gomez, owner of La Hacienda Restaurant near Everett Mall, is a longtime supporter of the Casino Road Futbol Academy. Like Garcia, Gomez was first a futbol player and fan in his native Mexico. He is also a Seahawks fan today.

The restaurant owner said he played semi-pro soccer in Mexico, and that in the early 1980s he tried out for Seattle’s original Sounders team, part of the North American Soccer League, coached by Alan Hinton.

Gomez, 53, had an early taste of Seahawks fandom when Largent, a Seahawks wide receiver in the 1970s and ’80s, was a customer at a Kirkland restaurant where he worked. “I was his waiter. I asked him for a picture, and he came the next day and brought me a picture,” Gomez said.

He really began to understand American football when his sons played in high school. Older son Marco played at Mariner High School. Mario, his younger son, played at Cascade.

For Everett’s Refugio Zesati, a devotion to American football came before his current passion for soccer.

Zesati, 39, is board president of the Everett Youth Soccer Club, a role he grew into through his three daughters’ involvement in soccer. He’s an avid Seahawks fan and season ticket holder, but said “now my love of the sport of soccer is either just as much or more.”

He took his oldest daughter to a Sounders FC game to celebrate her 15th birthday. His other girls are 8 and 11.

While soccer drew huge TV audiences with the 2014 World Cup, Zesati never saw soccer on television while growing up in Eastern Washington. He played one year of football at Sunnyside High School.

As a kid, before becoming a Seahawks fan, he loved the Chicago Bears. He remembers the fame of a favorite Chicago player, William “The Refrigerator” Perry.

Now, he and a friend make game-day pilgrimages to CenturyLink Field. A Seahawks game is “an absolutely unique environment,” he said.

At his house, Super Bowl Sunday will start early, at 6 a.m.

Zesati plans to start the day with a tailgate party in his driveway, with a canopy, chairs and a big TV outside. With a DVR, he hopes to watch the NFC Championship game and last year’s Super Bowl before the Hawks take on the Patriots at 3:30 p.m. It’s a routine that worked last year, so he’s sticking to it.

Whether football or futbol, it’s the best kind of fun.

“It brings people together,” Zesati said. “It’s a healthy outlet, people coming together having a good time.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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