“The great thing about being the new kid in the NASL is it gives Rayo a chance to showcase our city,” said co-owner Sean Jones in an interview. “We’ll be able to show the rest of the teams in the NASL how great a place Oklahoma City is.”
While Rayo OKC will be seeking its first franchise victory in a preseason match Saturday against Saint Louis FC, the match is private and not open to the public, according to a Rayo OKC official who answered the organization’s phone Thursday.
Jones admits that his team is at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to getting started, but he believes it isn’t anything they can’t overcome.
In a press release, NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson said he is excited for the new OKC franchise.
“The club’s unique partnership with Rayo Vallecano de Madrid highlights the global nature of the game,” Peterson said during a public announcement of the club’s arrival in November.
Saturday vs. Saint Louis FC
March 18 at Jacksonville
April 2 vs. Edmonton
Check Rayo OKC for more info.
One of the benefits of the partnership between La Liga‘s Rayo Vallecano de Madrid and NASL is that Rayo OKC is associated with a team in one of the top leagues in the world. The association can open doors for the club that might otherwise be closed.
While Energy FC has a two-year head start, co-owner Sean Jones said in an interview that as long as his team draws the crowds they expect, then they’ll be in great shape. One way they plan on doing that is by reaching out to a certain segment of the population: the Latino community.
Rayo OKC is banking on the Latino community’s love of soccer and a recognizable name from La Liga to build loyalty. Combine that loyalty with the interest in the sport from outside the community, and Rayo will be fine.
Plus, the mix of players who have experience in Central and South America might be the edge that Jones and Rayo OKC need to capture this growing demographic here in the metro.
As with anything that challenges that status quo, there are detractors. Many of NASL’s opponents say the league is unstable, pointing to the recent folding the San Antonio Scorpions and the Atlanta Silverbacks.
Jones points out that all leagues have periods of contractions. Historically, the MLB, NBA, NFL and the NHL all have gone through periods of expansion and contraction to get where the leagues are today. America’s current major leagues merged with rivals to form the leagues that they are today.
Noting that while San Antonio and Atlanta are no longer in the league, the NASL has added two additional teams beyond OKC for the 2016 season: Miami FC and Puerto Rico FC.
Still, NASL detractors also point out travel costs as being another downside, since Rayo’s closest competitors are now in Minnesota and Indianapolis. As was pointed out Jan. 16 on the SB Nation blog TheGoatParade.com, the rumors of westward expansion for the NASL persist — and they don’t stop with Oklahoma City.
According to the Goat Parade story, the league is looking to put a team in either Las Vegas, Orange County, San Diego or San Francisco markets, although that has yet to be confirmed by the league.
Rayo OKC has hired former San Antonio Scorpions coach Alen Marcina as the head coach for their inaugural season. Marcina started as the assistant coach at San Antonio, was quickly promoted to head coach, and took the team to the NASL’s Soccer Bowl in 2014. He parted ways with the Scorpions in November. In December, it was made public the Scorpions would cease operations.
The moment Marcina signed on as Rayo’s head coach, he started working to field a team that was just the right mixture of veteran experience and youth. His roster includes players that have experience playing on the soccer world’s biggest stages — from the NASL and La Liga II up to the World Cup and every league in between. He built that roster in very short order.
Rayo OKC actually represents the second attempt to bring an NASL team into Oklahoma City. The initial attempt was back in 2013. That team was Oklahoma City FC, which was playing in the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League. After Tim McLaughlin’s OKC Pro Soccer LLC and Sold Out Strategies — managed by Brad Lund, Sean Jones and DeBray Ayala — failed to get the team into the then-branded USL Professional Division, the group turned to the NASL in hopes the team would continue play into the 2014 season.
That first attempt hit some unexpected turbulence when McLaughlin pulled out in early 2014 and joined up with Prodigal LLC — owners of OKC Energy FC, a United Soccer League team. But Jones never gave up trying to get this franchise off the ground.
His chance came when he was introduced to the man who would become his partner: Raúl Martín Presa, the owner of Rayo Vallecano in Spain’s La Liga.
Presa and Jones met through a mutual contact. They soon realized they not only had a common love for the sport but a common interest, and the rest, as they say, is history.
According to its website, Rayo OKC started training camp on Feb. 16 in Yukon.