US soccer club defends decision to offer contract to player who served jail time for sex with minor

    FC Arizona defended its decision to offer Ricardo Velazco a contract.

    (CNN)A US soccer club is defending its decision to reward a footballer with a new contract, despite the player serving 45 days in jail for having sex with an underage girl.

    Ricardo Velazco was 23 at the time of the incident in May 2017, while the girl was 15-years-old.
    Velazco was originally charged with unlawful sexual activity with a minor, but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of sexual battery, his lawyer Greg Skordas confirmed to CNN.
      On February 7, FC Arizona tweeted that the club had signed Velazco to a contract, saying in part: "Team management believes in Clean slates and sincere 2nd Chances."
      Velazco was playing for Real Salt Lake in MLS when the crime occurred and was subsequently suspended by both his club and the league.
      The 25-year-old American never again played for Real Salt Lake -- or any other MLS club -- after charges were filed, but he did sign a contract with a club in El Salvador while the court case was ongoing.
      "When he was sentenced to 45 days in jail and ordered to complete probation, he was required to remain in Utah and therefore lost his contract in El Salvador, although that team was willing to accept him back," Skordas told CNN.
      "He had sexual contact with a young woman who lied about her age. That's no excuse but it explains why the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor and why the judge gave him probation and why his probation was terminated early and allowed to return to Arizona."
      In a statement sent to CNN, FC Arizona club owner Scott Taylor described Velazco having sex with a 15-year-old as an "unfortunate incident."
      "He has suffered his consequences, both with the law and losing his MLS spot, two years ago," club Taylor told CNN. "He has nothing else on his record.
      "We just feel like at some point, we need to let people get their lives back together and learn from their mistakes, not dwelling on them forever."
      "And the staff and I have seen where he's at now off the field and felt like he deserved a second chance. He knows what behavior we expect of ALL of our players."

      'Very thankful'

      "I'm very thankful for this opportunity, to be able to keep playing the sport I love," Velazco told CNN in a statement. "To have an owner who got to know me as a person before judging me or anything else."
      The news of Velazco's new contract comes after FC Arizona announced plans to start a women's team, while also attempting to get more female supporters into the stadium.
      When asked by CNN if the club had any concerns the decision would affect its ability to attract women to try out for the new FC Arizona women's team and to attract female fans, Taylor replied: "No. No we do not.
      "I have a wife who I adore and I am a father of a daughter, and our women's Head Coach is female. We are very mindful of women."
        FC Arizona plays in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), which is widely recognized as being the fourth tier of the football pyramid, though it has not officially been given that ranking by US Soccer.
        The NPSL didn't immediately respond the CNN's request for comment.