Soccer League granted access rights

The two-month-long battle for access to each of New Haven’s West River Park’s two soccer fields ended Tuesday morning when the New Haven Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees reversed an earlier decision not to renew the New Haven Soccer League’s access rights.

As per the agreement, the New Haven Soccer League will acquire rights to Edgewood Park, in addition to retaining access to West Haven Park. The Ecuadorian Virgen Del Cisne League will continue to play on Fair Haven’s Criscuolo Park and will given access to the John C. Daniels School and two spots at East Rock’s Rice Field.

City Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 said the reversal was part of a deal reached last week during a meeting between city officials and the two rival soccer leagues — the NH Soccer League, and Virgen Del Cisne — who were each vying for rights to the fields.

Controversy over the New Haven Soccer League’s right to host weekend soccer games on the fields along the Ella T. Grasso Boulevard began in February when the Parks Department decided to give access to the smaller, 16-person Virgen Del Cisne League, following concerns over public drinking, illegal parking and unlicensed food vendors. Labeling the decision as “unfair” and “discriminatory,” members and supporters of the 25-team New Haven Soccer League staged two separate protests outside City Hall and the Parks department.

In separate, individual interviews Tuesday, both president of the New Haven Soccer League Alberto Bustos and coordinator for Virgen Del Cisne Carmen Zambrano said, “We are very happy with the outcome.”

Bustos added: “We have prayed and gone to church hoping for a good outcome.”

Oliver Goodridge, manager of the United Nations Soccer Club of New Haven, maintained that the city’s prior decision was unfair. Monday’s solution, he said, is the result of mutual cooperation. As part of the new agreement, the league has agreed to pay for weekend policing of the soccer fields at an estimated extra cost of $1,100 per week, and move one third of its games to nearby Edgewood Park.

“The cost is tremendous,” Bustos said, “and we are working with the teams in the league to figure out how to pay for it.”

Bustos added that while the league is committed to staying at West River Park, he hopes further negotiations with the city will reduce the policing costs.

City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said both soccer leagues will receive their field permits for the coming season this week.

The New Haven Soccer League will host its first game at West River Park on Sunday, May 3.

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