By: Cody Elliot, Staff Writer
During the days, Angel Bravo spends long hours working in the sun and doing various construction and landscaping jobs around the city of Harrisonburg and beyond.
It’s a taxing job, the 25-year-old Turner Ashby alum said, but it certainly pays the bills.
While Bravo is physically exhausted by the time he punches out most days, there’s one way that he’s able to clear his mind in the evenings — getting on a field to play soccer.
“It’s exciting,” Bravo said. “It’s a getaway to clear your mind and play the sport you love.”
Bravo and Team El Charro defeated Team Aguila 2-0 on Monday in a hard-fought, competitive championship game of the Horizons Edge Adult Premier Soccer League.
As a result of winning the six-team league in which they lost just one regular-season match, Team El Charro received a check for $2,500 that the team split up evenly.
“It’s fun to play with a group like this that are dedicated, committed,” Team El Charro manager Kevin Gidari said. “We’re a couple of old men who used to play at a competitive level and now do what we can. These guys make it fun. Everyone shows up every game and encourages each other. You can’t ask for a better team to play with.”
After falling to Team Aguila in the regular season, Team El Charro came out with a much more specific game plan in the championship finale and operated it to perfection.
Justin Carey, the first-year men’s soccer coach at nearby Eastern Mennonite University, actually struck first for Team El Charro to give the team a 1-0 lead in the opening half.
Just moments later, Bravo scored from just outside the box to extend the advantage.
“It’s always exciting to play,” Bravo said. “I’ve played with them for a couple of years in a couple of different leagues and we kind of went our different ways for a bit, but came back together as a group. It’s always fun keeping in touch and stuff.”
Carey, who was a United Soccer Coaches NCAA Division III first-team All-American during his playing days, was most recently an assistant at Stetson University — a Division I program — before being named the EMU head coach back in January.
Upon arrival, he admitted he didn’t really have a soccer community in Harrisonburg to lean on but he soon met up with Gerard Miniaci and was able to find a place to play quickly.
“These guys have been great,” Carey said. “I just really enjoy it. I’ve become friends with these guys. To get out here and relax for a while has been awesome.”
As the newcomer to the team, Carey said the team’s chemistry was evident early on.
“I noticed it the minute I stepped on the field with them,” Carey said. “I could tell they had a thing going, but they were great with me. They welcomed me in and I just kind of integrated myself. They’re good players and I think they enjoy playing with good players, so it was a smooth transition. It was just a really enjoyable experience.”
A majority of the El Charro roster has played together for several seasons, they said, and the bond that has been built goes beyond just playing for a few hours a week.
“That’s what it really is,” said Gidari, a former Broadway head coach. “I’ve made friends through these leagues that I didn’t know prior to playing soccer. I enjoy it because of them. … It’s definitely a plus with all of us who have played together so much. We know each other, have a similar style of play. We are all on the same page with how we want to play, how we want to pass the ball, when we want to press. We have chemistry built, which is rare in adult leagues. We know each other pretty well at this point.”
Although it was a hard-fought win Monday, the players were happy to get home to their families and relax after a long evening that ultimately resulted in them hoisting a trophy.
For a majority of the Team El Charro roster, the game of soccer provides an outlet.
Most of their focus throughout the day goes to their job and providing for their family.
So that one-hour window each week that allows them to connect with their teammates and friends at Horizons Edge became a somewhat cherished time throughout the year.
And for them, that’s what playing in the Adult Premier League was all about.
“This is my happy place,” Team El Charro’s Juan Carlos Luna said. “For me, this is it.”