I was a bit skeptical when Jim Nealis first told me that a Premier Development League (PDL) soccer team might be coming to Carson City.
Would there be enough fans? Would there be enough good players? If there weren't enough fans, would there be enough good players? If there weren't enough good players, would there be enough fans?
But now that it has been confirmed that Carson will field a team in 2003, I've realized that really, the only 'enough' that matters is if there are enough local players on the roster, whether it be high school, college or former college players. That's what makes a team in this league work.
Growing up in Tucson, Ariz., we had the Tucson Amigos. The Amigos usually played their home games at Rincon High School, an awful surface that was an equally awful football field. But fans still came, sometimes more than 1,000 people. Even in a market four times the size of Reno and more than 10 times the size of Carson and the Carson Valley, fans came. That's because most of the players had ties to Tucson or, to a lesser degree, Phoenix.
The reason being: a community always backs their own.
There were players like Pablo Mastroeni, who now plays for the U.S. National Team, and Evan Whitfield, who starred at Duke and now plays for the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer, and Ryan Turner, who went on to play in the French first division. Soccer is more developed in Arizona, of course. But a PDL team can work in Carson and Randy Roser, one of the key players in bringing the team to Carson, seems to have a firm grasp on what it will take.
First, you need a field and the Carson High soccer field will work fine. As I already pointed out, any field will do. Roser plans to bring in more bleachers, install lights and improve the field. And all this has to be done by March, when the team plays their first game.
Second, you need a fan base. Have games that kids get in free with parent's paid admission or the first 200 fans get soccer balls. There has to be halftime contests, T-shirt giveaways, bobble head night, whatever. It has to be fun for everyone and Roser knows that.
Third, the players and coaches and team administrators need to be involved in the community. Camps, autograph signings, charity events, fund raisers, etc. People who don't even like soccer should be going to games. But that won't happen unless the team becomes a figure in the community. Nobody will come to watch people they don't know. And it doesn't matter how good or bad the team is.
Face it, this team isn't going to win the PDL championship in its first season. It's a big enough story when a Northern Nevada high school teams beats a Las Vegas team in the state tournament. But a team comprised of Las Vegas area players would struggle in this league. Besides, how many division I soccer players are there from Northern Nevada? You can't even count them on one hand because there aren't any (South Tahoe has a player at the University of San Diego but that's a different state). Roser and coach Paul Aigbogun plan on putting several international, college and former college players on the roster, which will be necessary to win games right away.
Long term, though, this team should strive to be mostly local. There are local high school players who have the potential to play at the highest collegiate level, which is the level most current PDL players are or have played at. But until local players play against competition much better than them, whether it be in big-time club soccer tournaments or in the Olympic Development Program, they'll never get significantly better. Playing in the PDL will now give them that. Believe me, playing Elko, Fallon and Wooster doesn't increase a players' ability, and probably even hurts it.
The Carson team will play in the Southwest Division of the Western Conference against five teams from California, a state with the highest number of talented players in the country. Look at our men's national team and even our youth national teams. More than half of the players are from California.
The last thing is that a team won't survive in this league without money. Roser estimates that with deposits, franchise fees, travel costs and other undisclosed fees, the first year could cost $100,000. Give or take 10-15 percent. Since Carson already has a team, obviously the money is there. But, remember, this is a business and if teams are in the red for consecutive years they will go broke and fold.
In 1998, I played with a team called the Northern Arizona Prospectors. It was the only PDL team in Arizona that year and were owned by the same people who owned the Arizona Sahuaros professional team in Phoenix. A few years before that, the Amigos had new owners and were never the same. They did have a team in 1999 but haven't had one since. I didn't play for Prospectors again. Nobody did. The team folded after one year. The team was made up of Tucson and Phoenix players and we played home games in Prescott. My parents didn't even come. It would be the equivalent of taking a team made up of Reno kids and playing home games in Pioche. What Piochens will watch them?
The same theory follows here. Fortunately, it seems like Roser knows it.
The University of California Golden Bears women's soccer team lost to No. 1 Stanford 1-0 in overtime in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last weekend. Ashley Sulprizio, a Douglas High grad, played significant minutes early in the season for the Golden Bears, who finished the season 12-8-1. Cal beat No. 19 Denver 2-0 in the first round, the school's first NCAA Tournament win since 1988.
But junior goalie Sani Post earned the starting role during the season, meaning Sulprizio, a redshirt freshman, will most likely be the starting goalie for her junior and senior years.
The Biola University men's soccer team lost to Westmont (Calif.) 3-0 in the second round of the NAIA Region 2 playoffs last week. Carson High grad Landon Roser was a member of Biola's team and logged minutes throughout the season. Biola, which beat nationally ranked Fresno Pacific 2-1 in the first round of the playoffs, finished the season 15-6-1, the school's winningest season ever.
After playing three years at the University of Southern Colorado, Douglas High grad Dylan Sheridan transferred to the University of California, Davis last summer. Sheridan, the son of current Douglas varsity coach Phil Sheridan, was one of the most dominant forwards in Northern Nevada in recent memory. It is still unclear if he will play next season for the Aggies.
Jeremy Evans is a Nevada Appeal sports writer.