After being closed for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Houston Soccer Association—along with other outdoor sports—is opening to full capacity again.
The Houston Soccer Association has 30 teams with 12 players on each team. Depending on the players’ schedules and the weather, each team plays almost every weekend.
The age requirement for the teams is 18+ and there is a masters division for 45+. The players are all male.
Maria Castillo has owned the La Escondida soccer complex for 23 years, where the Houston Soccer Association plays. The complex is her family’s main source of income.
“With a family of seven, La Escondida is crucial for our family’s income,” Castillo said. “When we were forced to shut down for an unknown amount of months and didn’t know how long we would be out of work, we started to worry.”
In addition to owning La Escondida, Castillo also owns 10 homes in Houston that she rents to tenants. This income has helped her family supplement the loss of income from La Escondida.
La Escondida hosts soccer tournaments for the Houston Soccer Association almost every weekend of the year, excluding days with poor weather and holidays. Castillo works at La Escondida “most days of the week,” Castillo said.
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced thousands of local businesses in Houston to temporarily shut down. La Escondida was closed for five consecutive months.
“I just couldn’t believe the news,” Castillo said. “From living your normal life, to all of a sudden there’s a virus that could kill you if you step outside of your house in just a matter of days.”
The Houston Soccer Association canceled all tournaments at that time and issued refunds to players, coaches and referees who had paid for the season in advance.
“We profit by selling drinks and food and charging cars a parking fee on the weekends,” Castillo said. “Luckily, the soccer parks is not the only family business we own.”
Although La Escondida was temporarily closed, employees still had to maintain the fields, cut the grass, clean the complex and handle the food and beverages.
“Because it’s a family business, we could all still work together, because we obviously live together,” Adrian Cruz, La Escondida employee and Castillo’s son, said.
The soccer industry’s prime time is the spring and summer seasons. By the time La Escondida was able to partially open, the soccer season was over. This meant that for the first time in 23 years, the Cruz/Castillo family’s business lost money in 2020.
“This was out of anyone’s hands,” Jasmin Cruz, La Escondida employee and Castillo’s daughter, said. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault and there was no one person to blame, so my parents were able to focus more on their other businesses.”
Jasmin Cruz usually charges cars the parking fee at the gate, helps clean the park and serves food and beverages in the pavilion.
The State of Texas allowed local businesses to partially re-open in March 2021, sooner than some other American states. La Escondida was able to open at 50% capacity, then at 75%.
In Fall 2020, The Houston Soccer Association was able to start planning tournaments again. “Life finally started to feel normal again,” Adrian Cruz said.
Initially, La Escondida had strict social distancing and face mask rules. However, as time went on, the rules became less strict.
“We were scared that our customers, friends and family could get sick from this virus, but with five kids, our family needed the business back.” Castillo said.
The COVID-19 vaccine was approved for emergency use at the end of 2020. On March 2, 2021 Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted the state-wide face mask mandate, effective March 10.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, everyone age 16 and older is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Texas.
According to the Texas Tribune, as of April 9, 2021, the state has fully vaccinated 23% of residents 18 and older.
At that point, most La Escondida customers returned to weekend tournaments and the soccer parks were open at 100% capacity.
“I’m glad the parks are back to normal again, I can tell that takes a lot of stress off of my parents,” Adrian Cruz said.
As of mid-April 2021, The Houston Soccer Association is planning tournaments for the near future, as well as hosting tournaments at La Escondida almost every weekend.
“With everything being online right now, people want face-to-face interactions,” Jasmin Cruz said. “Our customers used to spend their whole week looking forward to playing here on the weekends.”
La Escondida projects the rest of 2021 to look similar to the way 2019 looked in terms of profit, amount of tournaments hosted and the overall feeling of families being at the soccer fields on a hot day in Houston.
“We’re thankful to still have a business,” Castillo said. “We know a lot of families who lost their business this past year, so we are thankful.”
At Texas State University, recreational and intramural sports have been primarily cancelled since March 2020. The soccer fields will be used by students again in the Fall 2021 semester when the university switches back to mostly in-person classes.