The Playa Champions League builds community around a shared passion for athletic competition
By Andy Vasoyan
As Americans, it seems that every four years the rest of the world rises up in unison to rub our faces in the fact that yes, soccer is the biggest sport in the world, and yes, as a whole the U.S. is not great at it.
That’s because every four years marks the FIFA World Cup, arguably the capital-G Greatest happening in sport. The 21st World Cup kicks off this month, and this time the American men’s team failed to even qualify.
Despite that poor showing on the international stage, Playa Champions — a new Playa Vista soccer league
staging matches at Bluff Creek Park — aims to bring a high level of soccer to the community.
Put together last year, the Playa Champions League was founded by Nicolas Rey Petit and Dorian Bey; the two met, naturally, while playing soccer.
Petit, an Argentinian expatriate who moved to the community roughly three years ago, says that wherever he’s lived, the game has been a constant: “Soccer unites people. … Soccer is all my life; my best friends came through soccer. It’s happiness.”
Bey, who is originally from France, has more practical considerations to add: “For us, it’s a place to work out and get fit, but also to network and meet new people,” he says. “Some of the guys have business ventures together, and me and Nico [Petit] are starting a company.”
While the league certainly has friendships in mind, it really does aspire to soccer greatness. The homepage of its website has “SOCCER TAKEN SERIOUSLY” splashed prominently in the center, “competitive league for adults” just below.
“We are building this community, and playing soccer is always nice,” Petit says, “but competition brings a different flavor to it.”
For a point of comparison, Bey has some horror stories of other leagues.
“We would go and teams wouldn’t show up, or there wouldn’t be enough players,” Bey says. “We really wanted to start something that raised the level of play, and that was organized, and you could build a community and even look at your stats online.” (Bey and Petit have two goals apiece this season, while Petit has the dubious lead of two yellow cards to Bey’s one.)
The elevated level of play has drawn increasing interest; six teams started things off in La Liga 2017, and now there are ten teams in La Liga 2018, with a waitlist going into next season and new teams squaring off in qualifying matches to win spots.
If a team manages to come out on top, registering the twelve-man squad will cost $1,200, which breaks down to around $10 a game for each player, depending on how the team fares. That’s roughly the same cost as other pickup games at Bluff Creek Park, where the league hosts free pickup games as well.
Petit says that the pickup games have an important role to play for those who want to get involved but haven’t been able to put a team together or may need to elevate their level of play.
“We challenge the players to get ready and to get fit,” Petit says, “and, OK, maybe you don’t have the level this season — go play in the pickups, train, go to the gym, and you can get there and join a team.”
Besides drawing aspiring soccer stars, the games have also drawn in other sorts: aspiring celebrity watchers. Justin Bieber occasionally plays in the league (“he’s not the only celebrity,” Petit says), leading to congestion, parking problems, and paparazzi literally hiding in the bushes.
The league organizers have a Zen approach to distractions and inconveniences. Petit and Bey have developed a rapport with the guards in the area to keep problems to a minimum, and Petit takes it all in stride.
“[Bieber] just wants to play! Some people do some funny stuff, like they run to take selfies with him. … Our players aren’t doing that, because we want them to be focused on the game and having fun. That’s how we’re going to build this league, all together.”
Visit playachampions.com for information about how to register with the league.