Two new mini-pitches were unveiled Friday in DeForest Park by Herbalife Nutrition, LA Galaxy and the U.S. Soccer Foundation. The pitches were made possible by the LA Galaxy Foundation and Herbalife Nutrition’s Joint Community Partnership Fund.

Located south of the existing basketball court, the addition of the mini-pitches involved a refurbishing of the existing area, including crack refilling, asphalt repair and acrylic resurfacing.

For LA Galaxy player Jalen Neal, introducing the new mini-pitches to his hometown of Long Beach was particularly special.

“I’ve never seen a soccer court like this in Long Beach, like my entire life,” Neal told the Business Journal. “So just knowing that the kids have that nowadays makes me super proud.”

LA Galaxy defender Jalen Neal applauds Jordan High School soccer players during a soccer clinic held by LA Galaxy at DeForest Park. Photo by Tess Kazenoff.

Neal hopes that the DeForest Park mini-pitches will help grow the soccer community in Long Beach, he said.

While Long Beach is a city that already has so much talent, “I want to see more come out of Long Beach,” Neal said.

Neal has been in the LA Galaxy Academy since he was about 11 years old, and has been playing professionally for about four years, he said.

Growing up, Neal didn’t have too much exposure to the sport, but he said that now he’s thankful for the people who gave him a pathway to soccer, and who drove him to faraway cities that had fields and courts similar to the ones at DeForest Park.

“I’m just super proud of these kids and what they have now,” Neal said.

Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, LA Galaxy led soccer clinics with about 40 members of Jordan High School’s boys and girls soccer teams.

LA Galaxy player Daniel Aguirre said that he grew up in an under-resourced area in Northern California and recalled when basketball player Kevin Durant donated a basketball court to the local Boys & Girls Club in 2017.

“Honestly, like everyone back home, everyone was so happy that he did it,” Aguirre told the Business Journal. “I saw how he gave back to the community, and it inspired me to do the same.”

Aguirre said he hopes that the new mini-pitches will help provide a safe space for youth, and an opportunity to keep kids off of the streets.

Having a similar space as a child would have meant “the world,” to Aguirre, he said. “It would have helped a lot of kids.”

LA Galaxy midfielder Daniel Aguirre participates in a soccer clinic with Jordan High School soccer players at DeForest Park. Photo by Tess Kazenoff.

To date, the U.S. Soccer Foundation has installed over 500 mini-pitches nationwide, with the goal of reaching 1,000 by 2026.

Efforts to activate the futsal courts in DeForest Park began around 2012, when then-Councilmember Steven Neal and park staff reached out to the U.S. Soccer Foundation, who granted over $60,000 to create the first futsal courts, Mayor Rex Richardson said during Friday’s unveiling.

“This was a story that came out of really the youth bringing attention to infrastructure that needs to be invested in,” he said.

Over the last several years, many efforts have gone into planning for open space in North Long Beach, including a DeForest Park Master Plan, said Councilmember Joni Ricks-Oddie during the event.

“This is part of that overall vision,” Ricks-Oddie said. “When I think about the importance of park investments like this, this is what this looks like—These sets of partnerships that make it so that our parks have facilities and activities that support our entire community, that makes sure that we can utilize our open space.”

LA Galaxy players Daniel Aguirre (second from left) and Jalen Neal participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the unveiling of two new mini-pitches in DeForest Park along with Mayor Rex Richardson and Councilmember Joni Ricks-Oddie. Photo by Tess Kazenoff.

The partnership between Herbalife and LA Galaxy began in 2005, and is one of the longest partnerships in the Major Soccer League, said Jennifer Guran, Herbalife Nutrition, North America’s director of sports marketing.

Over the years, the partnership has grown, and Herbalife is now the jersey sponsor for LA Galaxy, Guran explained.

Since 2012, the LA Galaxy and Herbalife Nutrition have donated over $2.5 million to global communities in need. An additional $1.25 million will go to the Joint Community Partnership Fund designed to promote soccer, healthy lifestyles, and nutrition education in underserved communities.

“LA Galaxy and Herbalife have a shared goal, we want to make sure we’re bringing opportunities for people to be healthy and active,” Guran said. “These are communities that need the help. So we want to make sure we’re giving people every opportunity to be active and just get out and meet your neighbors, meet other people in the community.”

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