He was probably three years old when he already knew his life’s trajectory.
Maybe at that point it was all about the ball or the field or just plain old fun, but Marco Carrizales and his brother Richard practically grew up on the soccer field.
Back then the field was in Texas and the boys were young and their parents, although soccer fans themselves (and their father was a former soccer player too), were more interested in helping the boys to be well rounded athletes and to see where their interests were – a diamond, a rink, a field, a court – you name it. These guys tried it.
Sitting on the bleachers as the sun rises over Furman University, it’s a quiet morning and we’ve all gotten up early to talk about soccer and family and how TR and the Upstate fit into that mix. Their voices carry across the empty field and if there’s anything that is clear immediately, it’s that these men know soccer and they know brotherhood and they’ve got a strong sense of their role in the big picture of what they’re working to accomplish.
And what they’re working to accomplish is to bring club soccer to Greenville County. Marco and Richard Carrizales, brothers and business partners, are the president and COO of the Greenville FC, a brand new club soccer team that begins its inaugural season next month. (Although the team will be running practices in Greenville, their home turf for playing games will be right here in Travelers Rest at Furman University.)
“Growing up in our household, there was always soccer on the TV on Saturdays and Sundays,” Richard begins, after a nudge from Marco and a joke about his being the older brother so he should speak first. Richard talks about the early years – playing as a tiny kid running in circles on the field. And how eventually those circles turned into routine team playing and a decision by both boys to singularly pursue soccer over all the other options. Being almost five years younger than Richard, Marco found himself constantly playing up, kicking the ball with Richard’s friends and trying to keep up with the older kids. “He always wanted to play with my friends more than with his friends,” Richard says, a slow grin on his face. And this fate of birth order turned into one of Marco’s greatest assets. “It really developed him and he was light years ahead of other kids his age.” Marco laughs as we both joke that his success falls partly on Richard’s shoulders too.
Of course, you can see this is both a joke and a partial truth. The fuller truth might be that both boys, and now both men, realized then what is still true now. Their need for one another. Their obvious strengths and weaknesses that seemed to fall right along complimentary lines.
“I think it was good for me to have that experience,” Marco says. “Ultimately, from a young age – about eight years old – I was being recruited from different teams.” Over the years Marco not only played with older kids in their practice sessions, but he also reaped benefits from being trained and coached by former professional soccer players. Although you might think a tag along little brother would be a pest to an older brother trying to make his own mark on the field, it’s no exaggeration to say there’s not a hint of that in the conversation between these siblings. Even as I ask them about the potential rivalry they both laugh easily and deny it was ever an actual problem. “I liked him being out there,” Richard says. “He was good and it was kind of fun to watch your little brother schooling all these older players.” (Which is a statement that will make all the parents out there want to follow the playbook the Carrizales parents were using.)
“There was always a healthy competition,” Marco said. “It was more like a mental competivemess. I wanted to be able to compete and hang with my brother and his friends. It pushed me harder to keep being included.”
“It wasn’t like we were babysitting him. He got to the point he could hang with us on his own. My friends wanted him there too,” Richard says. The brothers laugh. “Apparently I made the best popcorn,” Marco chuckles, air quotes around the word “best”.
The siblings are quick to point out the role their mother played in their upbringing too. “She was big time – she was the one doing so much of the heavy lifting,” Marco says. “She was the ultimate support for us really.” Richard chimes in, “She is really the nurturing type. Dad is a criminal defense attorney so his work is intense and his schedule can be busy. ” When the boys were born their mom stopped working at the consulting firm where she was employed in order to focus more directly on raising her sons. “Everyone always liked our mom. I mean,” and here Richard laughs at the memory, “in high school girls would say they wanted to hang out with my mom – and I would be like – they want to hang out with my mom more than me? But I think now we see that we both have pieces of our mom and our dad’s personalities as well.”
Maybe you’ll get a chance to meet the Carrizales family at one of their home games at Furman University – both parents are excited to visit and support their sons in their new off the field soccer experiences.
Marco has strong ties to Furman because he played for two years on the Furman soccer team.
His move to Furman came as a transfer student after two years of college in Texas. He had two friends already on the team at Furman. “I came on a visit and my second day here I committed,” he grins. The appeal of a familial vibe was strong to Marco, an athlete who had been creating family out of his soccer teams since he was a teenager.
“I wanted something that put soccer aside, because it’s a small aspect. I wanted a connection and that familial feeling,” Marco shares. “It just fit. It was perfect.“
Before Richard moved to Greenville to join his brother in this new venture, he attended college and graduated with a business degree before moving back to Texas to work in the business field. During college Richard played soccer but knew his future wasn’t in professional soccer as a player. “I played club soccer but knew I would do something more academic,” Richard shares. “But I also knew I would do something with the sport eventually.” He spent four years working in the sports marketing department at the University of Arkansas.
Richard says that both he and Marco have always known they would end up together in some sort of work situation. It’s a clarity and a focus that seems to be running through the veins of both of the brothers. It’s a quiet assurance you can read across their faces and in their body language. There’s not an inkling of arrogance, but there’s a wealth of confidence.
“We knew he would be the face of whatever we were doing and I would bring my business expertise to the table and we would combine our skills on what we were doing,” Richard says. Although they didn’t know exactly what it would be, Marco says they both felt it would be family oriented. Because it matters to them. It’s a core value that is immediately evident. “We were always going to do something together – we knew we would.”
Deciding whether to pursue soccer as a professional player was what Marco termed a “tough predicament”. Trying to determine whether he would keep playing or go a different route was a hard call but at one point he simply made the decision and headed in the direction off the field. “Once I made my decision to step away from the game, I had to do a lot of self evaluation and figure out what I wanted to do,” Marco says. A soccer ball is tossed from hand to hand as his talks, and often Marco leans on the soccer ball as if it’s an appendage instead of a soccer ball. It’s obviously second nature to him. “I’d worked twenty years to get to where I was. I knew I wanted to do something in the sport, I just didn’t know what. Then this whole idea came about – I started thinking about it a lot and started talking with my mom and dad and Richard about it.”
“I was on board immediately,” Richard laughs. But they didn’t realize even then what that meant.
Greenville was a nearly immediate choice for the brothers, born of Marco’s experiences attending Furman University. In fact, the location might have been nurtured before the club soccer idea was hatched. “I didn’t think it would be a team at first, ” Richard admits, thinking it might be the brothers serving as player agents or landing on the representation side of soccer. “Owning a team just seemed so far fetched,” Richards says. “And then the idea of community oriented, home grown club playing really presented itself to us and it felt in our wheelhouse,” Richard says. They suddenly felt like it was perfect and they pulled their resources together, with their dad and several friends, and resolutely headed in the Greenville FC direction.
Both men talk about how Greenville was welcoming and felt like home early on.
Marco speaks about his fondness for the smallness of the city, for the joy of walking on Main Street and recognizing people. The tight knit community holds a big appeal to both brothers. Once Marco had retuned home to Texas after graduation he felt a genuine pull to head back to the Upstate. It didn’t take long for Richard to arrange to come join Marco.
Now both men are settled into Greenville and developing their club. “We both bring our own strengths to the table,” Marco says. And they’ve gathered around them a solid team with a board of directors and interns and a marketing company. Both Richard and Marco are quick to recognize that they need a team to work together and to carry the weight of creating Greenville FC and they’re quick to highlight the hard work that the other people on their team do as well. They are men who value a full circle, a team; not a super star mentality, but a group of like minded people making things happen.
The camaraderie is strong, tangible, between the brothers. “Like anything, you have to take your ego out of it,” Richard says, with a healthy sense of humility. “This is Marco’s baby, his hard work, so ultimately, he has his finger on the pulse and I’m the one handling the day to day operations but Marco is making sure the club is positioned where it needs to be in the community.”
And it seems like, although it might feel impossible to some, that these men actually have left their egos at the door.
“We were always good natured to one another,” they both laugh. Both even a little unsure and pleasantly surprised at how that worked out so seamlessly for them, both at home as kids and now in business as adults. “I think I wanted to nurture him more than beat him up,” Richard laughs. They are aware they’re a bit of an anomaly in the typical familial structure and they carry that knowledge with a sense of recognizing the role their parents played and in their own basic goodwill toward one another.
Their mutual love of the sport has transcended a lot of other areas in their lives but they’re always looking to achieve a healthy work and life balance.
In the end, soccer is a tool – but it’s a powerful one.
“It’s a global sport,” Richard says, “Players and athletes come from across the world.” Richard and Marco both share how growing up in their home they frequently hosted international athletes from other countries. Their entire family would become friends with the athletes living with them – and now they watch some of these men on television on Saturday mornings as they play on international teams.
You don’t have to be an original soccer fan to get behind this Greenville FC team and these brothers making their mark here in the Upstate.
“We have found that a lot of people are first time fans or new fans to the sport – we welcome that. We want to engage the fans already in every population and demographic and race and age group and turn new people onto the game as well,” Richard says.
And the reason Richard feels like turning people into soccer fans won’t be difficult? “Soccer is a game anyone can play – it’s a universal game with a ball and your feet,” he says. “You don’t need fancy equipment or pads – just a soccer ball. Some friends. An open space.”
Both men are enthusiastic about the fun and innovative opportunities they will have with club soccer. “Because of the level where we are currently, here at the beginning, we can really keep things community oriented and do some things with club soccer that no one else has done,” Marco says.
Like any small business, the trick is to keep the job sustainable, to start small and to grow organically, Richard says. And then he speaks of the future, the possibility of hiring other people and providing opportunities for them as well. “That’s the best feeling,” he says.
As much as these two brothers have now made soccer integral to their professional lives, it makes one wonder and I have to ask them, “Do you still like to play soccer?”
Their feet are on the ball right now, kicking it between them as we stand and talk and finish up the photos, the morning dew creating a wet surface and the grass sticking to the ball and to their Chelseas. They respond to the question as they respond to the soccer ball, instinctively and assuredly.
“Absolutely – we still enjoy it. We play Sunday morning pick up games all the time.”