Making steady money seemed like a good idea to Alonso Jimenez. So after playing goalkeeper last summer for the West Texas Sockers of the amateur Premier Development League, he took up a job offer from his brothers.
The 2006 Odessa High School graduate had played professional soccer in Mexico from 2007-11 before his club, Indios de Ciudad Juarez, folded. When other tryouts didn’t pan out, Jimenez starred for the Sockers — he was one of three finalists for the 62-team league’s goalkeeper of the year — before wondering what to do next.
“After the Sockers season, I tried working in the oilfield for a couple of months,” Jimenez said. “It was a good-paying job, but I wasn’t happy with it. It wasn’t my passion. Soccer always has been my passion. I tried working something else, and something different wasn’t for me. It made me push harder to train harder and I started making calls, because at one point I was ready to give up my dream.”
What a difference a few months can make.
Thanks in part to a recommendation, Jimenez earned a tryout earlier this year and is on the season-opening roster today for the Charlotte Eagles of the United Soccer Leagues Professional Division.
The Eagles open their season tonight in Charlotte, N.C., by playing host to Antigua Barracuda FC at Queens University’s Dickson Field. USL Pro is the third tier of the U.S. soccer pyramid below Major League Soccer and the North American Soccer League.
“We have three very good goalkeepers, and Alonso’s done extremely well,” said Mark Steffens, who is in his 17th season as the Eagles head coach. “We really like him. He’s got a big upside, he’s very athletic and we’re excited to have him.”
Steffens hopes Jimenez benefits from being an understudy to incumbent Eagles starter Eric Reed, who is the team captain.
Jimenez simply is happy to be part of the picture and thinks playing with the Eagles is a big step toward an even bigger future.
“So far it’s been a great experience,” Jimenez said. “The other players, the coaching staff, the city, it’s definitely a good environment. You know, it took me a while to start getting my level that I once was. I guess being out of the professional game for a while, it was a little rough, but I’ve been feeling pretty good lately.”
Jimenez, who helped Odessa High earn its first playoff appearance in 2003 and string of consecutive Region I-5A semifinal appearances from 2003-05, is rooming with the same guy who helped get him to Charlotte.
Sergio Villasenor is a midfielder from Juarez who played with Jimenez during the Indios years and then against him last year in the PDL while playing for the El Paso Patriots. When Villasenor played with the Patriots, he participated in a U.S. Open Cup game against Charlotte and was signed by the Eagles for the 2013 season.
“It’s a young team,” Steffens said. “We’ve got about 16 new players, and we’re trying to get them on the same page. This is the most turnover we’ve ever had. It was a crazy year with guys retiring and moving on, just a lot of different things.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids, and they’re showing some good promise. (Jimenez is) one of the young kids. He’s had some good experience in Mexico, and he’s looked good.”
Though never a No. 1 goalkeeper in Mexico, Jimenez got to experience Indios’ rise to the country’s top division. He also spent a year on loan with Tijuana, which has been a huge Liga MX success story over the last year and features U.S. national team players Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo.
Jimenez said his role models during those years included Tijuana goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo and midfielder Tomas Campos, who served as Indios captain and once played internationally for Mexico.
“It was definitely a lifetime experience,” Jimenez said. “It was awesome. When you’re there, you don’t really look up to them, but the older players talked to me and encouraged me. They were always there pushing me.”
Jimenez also said his time with the Sockers was important after Indios folded in late 2011.
He earned a trial with FC Dallas midway through the PDL season but had to return to the Permian Basin because of a groin injury.
Bumps on the road haven’t always been easy, but Jimenez said that’s part of the process.
“You have to have a lot of patience,” Jimenez said. “One day you’re at the top, the next day you’re at the bottom and that’s how it is. When you’re at the top, you’ve got to enjoy it.”
Being part of the Eagles organization has been positive for Jimenez, who said he’s enjoyed his short time in North Carolina.
Missionary Athletes International — a Christian outreach based in the Charlotte area — owns the Eagles and their women’s team, the Charlotte Lady Eagles. Former Permian and University of Texas standout Kelly Schmedes played for the Lady Eagles of the USL’s W League for three seasons.
Steffens said players from the team went on international mission trips last year in Vietnam and Thailand.
“I’m very grateful for everything,” Jimenez said. “They’re really nice people. They always give you the confidence to play, like they’re not just your coach, but they make you feel like a part of a family. Being far from home, it makes you feel like you’re at home, like a big family. I’m really loving it here.”
Jimenez still dreams. He hopes, some day, to be playing in Europe, in Major League Soccer or back in Mexico.
Until then, he’s striving for regular time with the Eagles and enjoying every moment of the process.
“It’s a career,” Jimenez said. “I think I still can play at a professional level, and that’s why I’m here.”