A closer look at the future of the Nevada Wonders
April 19, 2003
The most important word for the Nevada Wonders will have to be ‘patience.’ Coach Paul Aigbogun said it. Assistant coach Jim Nealis did. I’ll go ahead and do the same but only under one condition–Don’t have too much patience.
Teams can fall hard in the Premier Development League, an amateur league under the umbrella of the United Soccer Leagues (USL). Seasons have been over before June. But not only that, PDL teams in the Southwest Division of the Western Conference usually disappear. In the last eight years, there has been a complete turnover.
The Central Coast Roadrunners officially completed the turnover when they left the USL last summer, ending a more than decade-long run with the league. Also, half of the teams in the Western Conference of the D-3 Pro League, now named the Pro Select League, have left. They followed the Chico Rooks, perhaps the most successful USL franchise, to start its own league called the Men’s Premier Development League (MPSL).
What all this means is that the Wonders go into this season treading water without ever learning how to swim. But if there is anybody who can make this work, it’s Randy Roser, who was solely responsible for bringing the team to Carson City. He’s got the business sense to keep this thing afloat. However, will there be enough talent on the field to generate continued fan interest and, ultimately, win games?
Because if the players starting for the Wonders today are the same players starting in July, this team could struggle to win five games. Coach Paul Aigbogun envisions the Wonders as a youth development for his third division English club Bury F.C.
Roser has accepted this approach. He left off more talented and more experienced players because he felt they were too old and thus negated what he’s trying to do in Northern Nevada, which is develop youth talent. (I think he realizes, though, that those players could turn a few of losses or ties this season into wins.)
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It’s a gamble worth taking. A lot of those same players have been playing for the Northern Nevada Aces from Reno and only wanted a competitive place to play for the summer. And since this isn’t about winning games right away, Roser doesn’t need them. But he does need community support or his huge investment (big time $$$) might disappear along with the team.
The USL charges a franchise fee of around $40,000. Lights, which cost thousands of dollars, will be installed at the Carson High soccer field before the Wonders’ first home game May 10 against the Orange County Blue Star. After equipment and travel expenses, Roser estimates the first year could cost up to $100,000.
A good model to run one of these franchises by is the Chico Rooks. They’ve been around since 1993, won nearly every year and, on average, play home games in front of almost 2,000 fans. But they have had the right mix of age and talent to keep the team going for 10 years without going bankrupt. That’s because their roster is comprised of former college stars.
The Wonders’ current roster, though, is heavy on high school age talent. It’s rare for any high school kid to be able to do much in the PDL. To give you an example; In 1994, high school seniors Ryan Patrick and Josh Tempkin both were on the roster of the Tucson Amigos. Patrick and Tempkin were two of the best high school players in the country–not Northern Nevada, not the west coast, but the country. Neither were superstars for the Amigos and neither started regularly. But even though they played behind guys in the their mid 20s, the experience they gained was invaluable.
That’s exactly what the Wonders need to try and accomplish. Get through this first year and then somehow attract about eight good players between the ages of 23-26 to migrate to this area. Mix those with a solid group of high school kids, then bring in current studs in college to formulate a team that can make this thing work for several years. But if any one of those aspects are unbalanced, this could just be a one-hit Wonder.
Jeremy Evans is a Nevada Appeal sportswriter.
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