by Richard J. Alley
Marriage, like soccer, is a team sport, and Natalie and Alfredo Cerpa — owners of Greenfield Arena — appear to have the fancy footwork for both.
Avid soccer players, the Cerpas met in 2010 as their leagues and worlds overlapped. The Cordova facility where they both played indoor soccer was busy, yet poorly run, and Natalie knew it could be done better. With a background in her family’s longtime, Memphis-based business, Hill Services, she drew up a plan and began talking with people in the business community who, as she says, “were committed to the city.”
At the same time, Alfredo was organizing and running a variety of soccer leagues around town. Originally from Chile, he’d been a member of that country’s national gymnastics team before switching over to soccer and playing in a second-tier division with a professional organization. An injury sidelined his career, and he came to the University of Memphis in 2001 to learn the English language, staying for work as an IT consultant and, eventually, his new family.
They looked into building a new facility but quickly realized that wasn’t economically feasible. The search for an existing structure — one with enough wide-open space for a regulation field (pitch, as it’s called in soccer), viewing section, bathrooms, concession stand, office, etc., but with no obstructing columns — led them to a compound of pre-fab buildings housing a tennis facility and former soccer and field hockey field in Midtown, nestled beside a railroad overpass on South Willett Street just off of Central Avenue.
The team signed a two-year lease (optioned twice again since), and put a six-figure sum into clean-up and renovation. “When we walked in, it was full of antiques, [the landlord] used it as storage,” Natalie says. “Basically the shell was here and we had to get everything out. Everything you see on the inside, we did.”
Greenfield was opened for business in 2011. Natalie and Alfredo were married a year later.
They kicked off with four leagues playing two seasons. Where adult soccer was the focus in the beginning, now the kids’ leagues and skills training programs have become part of the mix.
“We felt like the kids would only come inside in the winter, but the business has changed and we’ve been able to establish a brand, and now I think people see that this is a soccer place and want their kids to learn, and want them to come here,” Natalie says. She adds with a laugh, “And it’s kind of nice to sit inside as a parent.”
The leagues are the mainstay, the meat of the business, and the gaps are filled with open play, skills training, and the like. But the key to success is in filling up an entire day with play at Greenfield, so another aspect to their business is late-night leagues accommodating the second-shift workforce and restaurant employees just clocking out. These are matches that can go until one or two in the morning.
The soccer community has grown over the years. Natalie grew up playing in competitive leagues, with her church, at the Hutchison School, and in college. Now there are more and more local leagues and clubs every season, with heavy growth in the youth arena. The Cerpas have tapped into that community and at the end of 2014 (the same week their son, Alexander, was born), the couple opened Greenfield East off of Sycamore View near Summer Avenue.
Today, there are about 10 recreational leagues that run the gamut — men’s and women’s over 35 (years old), laid back, co-ed pick-up, etc. — at each location. Leagues vary in size for each of two seasons with 50 to 70 teams in the spring, and up to 100 teams for the winter. That puts anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 players on the pitch during a given season.
With two full-time employees, and one part-time between the two locations — and their own hands full with family and careers — Alfredo works overseeing the facilities and developing new leagues to broaden the reach and continuing to fill in the gaps.
“I’m always looking to see, ‘What is the market?’” he says. “All these people who played high school soccer, but they’re not as skilled and didn’t make college, but they want to play, what is out there for them? For these people who want to come and run, get some exercise, safe and not get injured; that’s where our focus has been.”
For more on Greenfield Arena and indoor soccer, visit greenfieldarena.com.
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