In his native El Salvador, Tito Herrera played soccer on rocky fields that had few — if any — patches of grass.
Life in the United States is better for Herrera, but it’s not without its challenges. The Westland Hialeah junior and his soccer teammates have had a number of practices inside the school’s parking garage.
It happens early in the season, when the boys have to share Westland’s one field with football, girls’ soccer and even band practice.
The gym is not an option because the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams practice there. And there is no baseball field at Westland.
“I don’t think too many schools have to deal with this inconvenience,” Westland coach Gregory Solano said. “Most schools have an open space, but we have a four-story building with just the one field.”
The soccer team’s “garage practices” are held in the late afternoon, when the faculty members have gone home and there are no cars in the way.
Solano puts his kids through three-on-three or five-on-five drills — there’s no room for anything more than that, he said.
“It’s a challenge, but I am willing to overcome it because soccer is my life,” said Herrera, a defender/midfielder. “It doesn’t matter where we play, I want to improve.”
Herrera said the Westland players use tennis shoes instead of soccer cleats inside the garage, and they are careful about not slipping and getting hurt on the concrete surface.
He said some kids complained a couple of years ago, when the team began using the garage after failing to find a local park that would let them borrow a field for practice.
“I was very surprised we had to practice [in the garage],” Herrera said. “But I told my teammates that this is all we’ve got, and we have to take advantage of every opportunity to play soccer.”
Solano, who has been Westland’s only soccer coach since the school opened in 2007, has worked to improve the program year by year.
After winning no more than three games in its first four years, Westland broke through in 2011 with a 9-7-2 record, its first winning season.
This year, Westland is off to a 2-3-6 start, including a 2-2 tie against its Class 4A rival American, which made it to the state semifinals last year.
Westland had a 2-0 lead on American before the Patriots rallied to tie.
“We’re earning respect, little by little,” said Enrique Diaz, a Westland defender and one of the team’s eight seniors. “We’ve had some bad seasons before last year, but I’m glad I’ve been a part of the program pretty much since the start.”
As for practicing in the garage, the disadvantages are tactical, where the Westland players can’t use a regulation-sized field to mimic the demands of the game.
But there are advantages to training on hard surfaces.
“Brazilian kids sometimes practice in garages,” said legendary local soccer coach Jay Flipse, who is now at Sunset. “It teaches you better control on your first touch. And the most important thing in soccer is your first touch — the second most important is your last touch.”