First things first: Soccer can work—and is working—in America.
Growing attendance for professional leagues, strong television ratings for national and international matches, and the game’s universal appeal for players and spectators alike have proved the sport’s viability in communities across the country, including Naples. As fútbol continues its growth in Collier County, some credit for that goes to another source. London-born Enoch Showunmi, a 6-foot, 5-inch former professional player of Nigerian descent with a master’s degree in finance, is part of a group trying to make the Naples United Football Club a unifying source of entertainment and good works.
“It’s a pleasure. Absolute pleasure,” Showunmi, 40, says when introduced, oozing charm with his dashing British accent.
Although not a household name to American audiences in the same breath as elite international stars, Showunmi had a successful 12-year career in England, mostly as a forward. His days as a pro included playing in the Championship League, England’s second-highest tier after the Premier League.
In Naples, he shares the vision of Naples United founders Veronica Docio and Vicente Sandoval. The Argentinian couple strives to build the organization they launched in 2017 into the kind of community-wide cultural influence all three partners know from their international upbringings.
“Our thing is really engaging the community, getting them to our games, and really developing players all the way from youth to our first team,” says Showunmi, who moved from Miami to Naples in 2019 and became club director of Naples United shortly after. “We want to have a hub where the community can come together and enjoy something different that’s not been on the doorstep for residents of Naples and Collier County before.”
Naples United already has a winning unit with its adult squad, which plays in the National Premier Soccer League. The NPSL features nearly 100 teams nationwide playing at the top amateur or semiprofessional level. Now the club is rapidly growing its youth squads, which launched in earnest just this year.
Although previously slowed by COVID-19, the club has grown its youth rosters from a handful of players to about 85 in just half a year, Showunmi notes. That expansion resulted in part because of the appeal of the Paradise Coast Sports Complex, the county’s 180-acre, multipurpose facility that opened in 2020 just north of I-75 off Collier Boulevard, where the club plays. Ultimately slated to encompass 20 athletic fields, the complex boasts locker rooms, covered seating, and a 32-foot, double-sided video screen in its 3,500-seat stadium, among other amenities.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful facility,” says Showunmi. He points to home-game crowds of about 500 the last year and a half; the club’s goal is to reach turnouts of 1,500 to 2,000 within a few years.
“It started from scratch. We had nothing. No stadium. No pitches. We had to go around to different places to play. Now we have a stadium. We have a home. We’ve gone from basically zero to putting a good product on the field.”
Committed to Community
Central to Naples United’s growth plans are its outreach efforts, part of which entails providing opportunities to kids and families who wouldn’t otherwise have access to the club’s after-school programs or more highly skilled academy-level play.
“We literally allow all types of players, all types of levels,” says Showunmi, citing endeavors with the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County, as well as potential collaborations with Greater Naples YMCA, Guadalupe Center, area middle schools, and others.
Showunmi and his colleagues are dedicated to social inclusion and attracting anybody interested in soccer. “And we’re going to be here to help you develop your game,” he says. Showunmi’s evident passion and authenticity also are contributing to the club’s growth. Believing, as Docio and Sandoval do, that sports clubs can be agents for good in their communities, Showunmi has helped make quick believers of Naples United’s partners.
Among those believers is St. Matthew’s House, which provides some financial support, a rarity for the nonprofit. “We’re not in the business of sponsoring other groups,” says Bill Curry, vice president of development for St. Matthew’s House. Curry recently came to Naples after 21 years doing similar work in Chicago, where he witnessed the benefits of sports-related outreach. The Naples soccer group provides civic benefits that support St. Matthew’s House’s primary mission—fighting hunger, homelessness, addiction, and poverty. “We’re in the business of community impact and seeing lives transformed. And we think Enoch, Veronica, and Naples United are a great partner to do that with,” Curry says.
A self-described late-bloomer, Showunmi credits soccer with instilling in him the resilience to continue working hard despite repeated rejections in his bid to reach the professional ranks. It wasn’t until age 21, older than when most players break through, that he finally got that chance. “I always say to the players, ‘You never know when the opportunity is going to rise. You just have to stay ready,’” Showunmi explains. “It changed my life. I was able to travel the world, play in huge stadiums, and now at 40 years old, I’m still involved in the game.”
Using the finance degree he earned during his years playing professionally, Showunmi worked as a business development manager for a hedge fund after retiring from soccer. But he missed the game and soon found himself training and mentoring young players in Miami through Global Soccer Pathways, a separate entity he still operates.
When Showunmi and his wife, Gabriella, were starting a family of their own, they wanted to be closer to her family in Naples. Two of her brothers have lived in the city for more than a decade, one of whom owns and operates several downtown restaurants. With a daughter born in early 2021 strengthening his ties to the area, Showunmi says he’s even more committed to helping build Naples United for the long haul. Docio and Sandoval have brought Showunmi in with an ownership stake in the club.
“I really love the leadership of Enoch and Veronica,” says St. Matthew’s House’s Curry. And taking note of Docio’s young kids, he adds, “It’s not like they’re going to be here for nine months [then it’s] time to move on.”
Given the growth the club has already seen—and soccer’s continued expansion in the United States—Showunmi and his fellow owners have even bigger things in mind for Naples United. “We’re in a great area between Orlando and Miami,” he says. “There are professional leagues that want to franchise in Naples. If we find the right investors and right people around us, there’s potential to take this club professional. That’s one of our aims.
“We’re not in a rush,” he continues. “We always like to take things a step at a time. We want to create a great culture, a great community. But the potential is there. If we can create excitement for the NPSL, just imagine what we can do to create something amazing as a professional team.”
A Guide to Prominent North American Soccer Leagues
Major League Soccer. The top men’s pro league in North America debuted in 1996 and features 28 teams, including three in Canada and two in Florida—Orlando City and Inter Miami. Average MLS player salaries in 2021 were nearly $400,000, according to sports website The Athletic.
National Women’s Soccer League. North America’s top women’s pro league set a new high in May with average opening weekend attendance of 10,000 fans per game. The league’s dozen teams include the Orlando Pride, which is affiliated with MLS’s Orlando City.
United Soccer League. Headquartered in Tampa, the USL is the parent of several North American leagues. Its top men’s league is USL Championship, a professional league that is second in the U.S. hierarchy under MLS; it includes the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Miami Football Club.
National Premier Soccer League. Naples United Football Club, a semiprofessional squad founded in 2017 operating out of Paradise Coast Sports Complex in Naples, is among nearly 100 teams playing nationwide on what is the broad, unofficial fourth tier in the U.S. structure.
United Premier Soccer League. Naples City Football Club, which includes a men’s team that also plays at Paradise Coast, is part of the largest adult amateur league in the U.S., with more than 350 men’s and 60 women’s teams projected to play in 2022.
Naples United Football Club
Home: Paradise Coast Sports Complex, 3940 City Gate Boulevard North, Naples
Teams: Men’s adult teams play in the National Premier Soccer League and National Soccer League. Expanding youth squads in academy-level play and after-school programs start as young as age 5.
Contacts: naplesunited.com; playparadisecoast.com