The Turlock Express, the city's only professional sports team, faces a tough challenge in the Professional Arena Soccer League.
“We're the smallest market in the whole country,” said team owner and coach Art Pulido.
Yet the little team that could has shown its might on a national stage, making the playoffs for the past two years in a row. The Express took the dominant San Diego Sockers into overtime in last year's playoffs, stunning the perennial champions.
“It was kind of a moral victory,” Pulido said. “That's the way we learn to be better.”
The team doesn't rely on the high-priced free agents that fill the rosters of big market teams from Las Vegas and Chicago. Instead, the Turlock Express take mostly local players and train them to compete on an elite level.
“We're developing so much talent in this area,” Pulido said. “It's great.”
With opening day less than a month away, the Express signed several returning stars at a signing event Saturday evening, held at the Turlock Poker Room. The Turlock Poker Room are the main sponsors of the Express.
The returning class is headlined by striker Adrian Gutierrez and midfielder Arturo Pulido. Gutierrez was one the league's top 10 scoring leaders a year ago, while Arturo Pulido scored 14 goals and 12 assists.
Talented defenders Martyn Arista and Jesse Horta were resigned as well, both elite defenders from the Turlock area. And speedy midfielder Samuel Saldate will rejoin the team, too.
“We know they can play at that level,” Art Pulido said. “… They're all veterans at the age of 23.”
The Express lost a few key players to free agency over the off-season. Ivan Campos, the team's leading scorer and an All-League Second Team awardee, signed with the Las Vegas Legends, as did star midfielder Armando Martinez. Bronil Koochoie, a Turlock native who played a big role in the Express's playoff run a year ago, signed with the Dallas Sidekicks.
But the Turlock Express have restocked with more talented locals, who trained hard throughout the summer. Pulido said the team will announce its new players in the coming weeks, who should carry the team to another playoff berth.
And the Express have added two big free agent goaltenders – Mitchell Watson and Javier Rosales
Watson played goalkeeper for North Carolina State for four years, where he was ranked fourth in NC State history with a total of 305 saves. Additionally, Watson played for the under-18 U.S. National Team.
Rosales played for four years with CSU Stanislaus, and was also the goalkeeper for the Stanislaus United Turlock Express team, which was the first U.S. Club Soccer team that qualified for the U.S. Open Cup.
The two top-notch goalkeepers should lock down a position that was in flux last year – and set up the Express for another great season.
“Fans, don't worry,” Art Pulido said. “We'll be be as strong as ever to compete in this upcoming season.”
The Turlock Express kick off their season at 7 p.m. Nov. 2 at the newly remodeled Turlock Indoor Soccer Arena, 500 S. Center St. The Express will face local rivals the Sacramento Surge on opening day.
Tickets are available at the Turlock Indoor Soccer Arena for $10 in advance, and $12 at the door. Tickets for those age 16 and under are $5 in advance, and $6 at the door.