We caught up with soccer star Soccer Landon Donovan to chat about the upcoming Soccer Assist fundraiser in Austin, why it's so important to help children get into league soccer, and more.
Although soccer is a prevalent youth sport in Austin, it’s not always a level playing field, especially for children without the economic means to pay the $600 to $1,200 necessary to participate in the top youth leagues. Enter Soccer Assist, a new local nonprofit founded by Dr. Aaron Rochlen, a UT professor soccer dad who wanted to help diversify the top leagues in the city. In just a year, Soccer Assist has raised money to buy new equipment, create an endowment for the creation of a soccer field in East Austin, and give children ages 7 to 11 opportunities to join leagues like the Westlake Youth Soccer Association and Lonestar Soccer Club.
On June 3, Soccer Assist will throw a fundraiser and soccer social at the Domain’s Rock Rose Hall, with legendary soccer stars Landon Donovan and Brian Ching, cocktails, bites, the U.S. vs. Colombia match live on TV, and tunes by DJ Manny. Donovan and Ching, along with Stuart Holden, are the founders of Helm Elite Soccer, which works to teach kids the skills necessary to enjoy the game through camps in select cities. They’ve partnered with Soccer Assist since last year, when the three held a Helm Elite camp in Austin. Austin Way caught up with Donovan—the most esteemed soccer player in U.S. history—ahead of his Austin appearance to find out why this event is so important to him.
How did the Helm Elite-Soccer Assist partnership come about? LANDONDONOVAN:We started doing some camps last year. [Brian Ching and Stuart Holden] played in Houston for a long time and have close ties to Austin, so we wanted to go there. We wanted to have some sort of component where we had a meaningful way to help the communities we went to. So we reached out, talked to Aaron, and really loved what he’s doing, so it became an easy marriage in that way.
What do you remember about being in Austin last year? LD: We loved it. A lot of people have had great things to say about Austin for a long time because it’s a culturally-forward city with South by Southwest and the university, and it’s got a lot going on. We loved downtown—the first day we got in, we went to Whole Foods to pick up some food and got some barbecue, and just walked around and fell in love with it. The kids were great, too.
What’s your main goal with Helm Elite? LD: For us, it’s really simple. It’s a way to stay connected to the game, to each other, to fans. It’s pretty intimate; we try to keep it that way so the kids get a real interaction with us, as opposed to herding them through an autograph line and walking out. I think everyone enjoys it. To have an impact on each kid is what’s important to us.
Why is league soccer so important? LD: It’s personal for me. I grew up without much in my life, and if I didn’t have people helping me and my mom financially, then I wouldn’t have been to able to play on some of the teams I played on. It was just too expensive. So I was fortunate that I had a few people who were able to sponsor us and help us so that we could play. If we have the ability to do the same thing for some kids who wouldn’t have had the chance to play, then we’re going to jump at it.
Are you ready for the fundraiser? LD: We’re excited about it. Aaron’s done a great job, and it’s going to be a fun event—a lot of people are going to be very happy.