San Francisco is everything to me.
I grew up in the Excelsior District. I went to Clarendon Elementary, followed by Presidio Middle, then International High School before graduating from Washington.
I learned to play soccer — the game I love — on these fields, in these gyms, and on these streets. Mission Rec Center. Valencia Playground. Crocker-Amazon. You name it. If it’s in The City and you can dribble a ball on it or through it, I’ve probably been there.
SF Chivas was my youth club. I came up through the Mission Youth Soccer League, where I played for Jose Guzman, and later, my dad. We had some real talent, but back then, it wasn’t easy for a youth soccer team in San Francisco.
We used to practice at Palega Rec Center, where the grass was so tough that if you didn’t watch yourself, you could break your ankles. And there were no lights. Our team’s parents would pull up with their car lights just so we could get an extra 10 minutes of practice after sundown.
The team did well and I started to get noticed, so I was sent to the Olympic Development Program through U.S. Youth Soccer. Most of the other players in the program were in the San Jose Earthquakes’ youth academy. They competed in the best national tournaments and faced off against top players I had only heard of via the Internet and word of mouth.
You’ll never know how good you can be until you compete at the highest level, so after a long talk with my dad and my coaches, I joined the Quakes’ academy. It was everything I thought it would be, but it took a toll on everything else.
I took the BART and CalTrain everywhere, whether it was to school or training in San Jose. While it was fun at first, getting home in pitch-black darkness is not an ideal way to thrive academically. I would miss a lot of class because of the Quakes’ travel schedule. My teachers were telling me how exhausted I looked. I was. One time I didn’t make it to school because I accidentally slept on the BART all the way to Oakland.
Eventually, I pulled myself together, did enough to graduate, and thanks to the national tournaments I played in with the Quakes, I got to be seen by scouts and earned a college scholarship to Cal State Fullerton. But even when I left for Southern California, The City kept calling me back.
Last spring, I learned that the San Francisco Glens, one of the longtime local amateur clubs, had plans to go pro. They announced that their first stop on the way up would be the USL League Two, and that they would be playing at Boxer Stadium.
A local team playing a few blocks away from my house? And not only that, to play for the one lower-division league that has the most players that get drafted by Major League Soccer clubs? I love The City so much, and I still want to be a pro one day. To be able to represent my hometown with SAN FRANCISCO on my chest at this high a level was a perfect fit, so I tried out and made the team.
We didn’t make the playoffs in our first season, but I think I can speak for my teammates and the fans when I say it was an amazing experience. I love playing for a coach in Javier Ayala-Hil who saw potential in me that I never saw before, having the trust to plug me in as a starting defender when I had been a forward my entire life. I ended up earning Man of the Match honors twice and led the team in appearances.
To play for this club is special. The Glens are the first club in San Francisco to have a full pyramid all the way down to five-year-olds on the micro soccer teams, so you’ll see hundreds of kids from our youth club waving green and white flags at the games supporting you. It makes you want to work a little harder than you already do because you know that you inspire them, and it’s mutual. It’s a big reason why I’ve signed on for a second season.
Most importantly, just being out there reminds me why I felt I had to leave San Francisco in the first place: We didn’t have opportunities like these.
That’s all changed now. You can stay in The City. You can play in front of your family and friends. You can grow here and become a professional soccer player. You can build your legacy in the local community. That’s why I’m so proud to be a part of this.
I’m Rei Dorwart of the San Francisco Glens. Come watch me this summer.
The San Francisco Glens in USL League Two had four players from last season selected in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, so come watch the next wave of local soccer stars at Boxer Stadium. Get your season and single-game tickets now before the May 17 home opener at sfglens.com/tickets.