By Liliana Marquez
As the van started to move along the street, passengers’ silence reflected the outcome of the match.
Ricardo Raygoza drove his players back to campus while he and one of them cried as the others sat quiet, reflecting on what happened that night.
The East Los Angeles College men’s soccer team qualified for the 2014 CCCAA Men’s Soccer SoCal Regional playoffs where they played the first round on the road against Santiago Canyon College, losing 2-1.
Raygoza, 28, is an assistant coach of the men’s soccer team and just like the other men’s soccer assistant coaches is an alumnus of the school and the soccer program.
For Raygoza the defeat was difficult, but right after the game he tried to keep positive and calm to talk to the players and make sure they were fine. It was during that ride back to ELAC when reality started to sink in.
Born in East Los Angeles and raised in South Central, Raygoza had a tough childhood, but soccer helped him stay away from negative things, changing his life and making him a better person.
“I was raised really well, but it was just tough. Tough neighborhood, tough things to see growing up that at this point still have some effect on me,” Raygoza said.
“I could have been easily influenced and guided to do something that is very normal where I live, like gangs, but soccer kept me away from everything.”
His early interest for the sport came thanks to his father, who played soccer during his younger years.
Raygoza attended Thomas Jefferson High School where he played soccer for two years.
Despite not being eligible to play the other two years, he decided to stay at Jefferson an extra year in order to graduate.
Once at ELAC, he became part of the men’s soccer team for the 2005 and 2006 seasons playing forward and midfielder.
“I came (to ELAC) so hardheaded and I think I was just blowing through players and beating them and it wasn’t getting me anywhere,” Raygoza said.
“I learned the values of being a team player because I was very selfish and I felt like I knew it all.”
It was in 2005 that ELAC had the best season so far under Head Coach Eddie Flores.
“He (Raygoza) carried us all the way to a game before the final four. We played all our (playoff) games on the road and we went overtime twice,” Flores said.
“We went to Santa Ana (College) and we lost there, but we had them at the end, 2-1. We needed three games to get out of the south (region) and he was part of that team.”
Raygoza scored 23 goals during his college career. He said that he became a better person thanks to the experience gained while playing at ELAC.
“Now I believe in having a lot of discipline, following the correct path and listening to advice. Everything just switched around,” Raygoza said.
After he finished playing for ELAC, Raygoza asked Flores if he could help the coaching staff and after insisting for a long time, he became a volunteer coach.
“I slowly started to become part of them. By 2010 I was already teaching, running drills, doing stuff on the board, so I was already fully in there,” Raygoza said.
In 2011 he went to study and play soccer at Kansas Wesleyan University.
“Prior to leaving I saw myself as a coach. I kind of wanted to follow Eddie Flores’ footsteps, so I wanted to be a head coach,” Raygoza said.
“I guess I wanted to be the next guy in line when he leaves and kind of still have my touch to it, but also have his legacy attached to me because we created such a great bond together.”
Raygoza knew that in order to have a chance of becoming the future head coach, he needed to get his bachelor of arts and going to KWU would help him get closer to his goal.
“I felt that if I was going to school, playing soccer was going to help me get that BA faster,” Raygoza said.
While at KWU, Raygoza won two conference rings. His major was exercise science and his minor coaching.
After he graduated, Raygoza returned to ELAC with the mentality of getting the men’s soccer team to the next level.
“I wanted to help people especially since I didn’t have much while growing up in South Central. I was part of the 2005 riots at Jefferson, so I saw a lot and I just wanted to help as much as possible,” Raygoza said.
“It makes me happy to go recruit, help kids and get them off the streets to make sure I put them in school and put them in the right direction because I didn’t have that guidance.”
Raygoza said the that hardest part of his quest of becoming a coach has been finishing his education and obtaining his degree.
“I just got my degree and I am 28. I never thought I was going to go back to school and finish because I went to high school for five years. I was a knucklehead,” Raygoza said.
“School wasn’t for me and it was never part of my plan nor my life. It was just soccer, so getting that degree was a relief.”
For Jose Gudino, member of the 2014 soccer team, Raygoza is more than a coach.
Gudino considers him a good friend who is always willing to help the players and give them advice.
“Even though he is young, compared to other coaches, he can actually teach you a lot of things. He is experienced,” Gudino said.
“Sometimes people just don’t recognize how much he has to offer just because of where he grew up.”
Husky Christian Vasquez, who also attended Jefferson, had Raygoza as an assistant coach during a short period of his high school career.
“His way of coaching us (at ELAC) was really tough, but in a way it seemed fair. We would mess up and he would discipline us by running and that helped us a lot. After that we were more focused. Those were tough practices with him, but they were fair,” Vasquez said.
Once Raygoza returned to LA, Flores said that for him it felt natural to ask him to come back and coach at ELAC.
Flores said that having assistant coaches who are alumni of the school and the soccer program is crucial because they have the college’s best interest in mind.
“He is an alumnus of the school, so he can represent the college and the program, but I think that because he was older he had a better grasp of what we want to do and I think he understand the players very well,” Flores said.
Assistant Coach David Garcia said Raygoza is who brings clarity to the team and also someone who helps the players during stressful times.
“Checking those emotions here and there is something that I feel coach Raygoza has more on control. That gives you a little more patience to see things clear and he provides that clarity,” Garcia said.
“A coach has to be an anchor to players since they are going to get emotional because they are the ones playing the game and they are the ones getting stressed out. I think that’s the reason why coach Raygoza helped the team a lot this season.”
Although his journey as a coach is just starting, Raygoza keeps working hard to make ELAC a powerhouse not only in soccer, but also in learning.
“My main goal at ELAC is to change the community and the mentality. I want people to come here and know they can get the best education at this college,” Raygoza said.