When the Nevada Wonders open the 2003 season against the Fresno Fuego at 2 p.m. today in Fresno, Calif., it will be unchartered territory for both teams.
Along with the BYU Cougars, Nevada and Fresno are the three new members of Southwest Division of the Western Conference of the Premier Development League (PDL), the lowest level of organized soccer in the United Soccer Leagues (USL). The three teams join the Orange County Blue Star and Southern California Seahorses in the five-team division.
Three games on the Wonders' schedule are against Pro Select League teams, which acts as the third level of professional soccer in the United States and was formerly called the D-3 Pro League of the USL. Those games will be against the Utah Blitzz, San Diego Gauchos and California Gold. (The A-League is the second highest form of pro soccer after Major League Soccer, which has quietly distanced itself from the USL for this season.)
Nevada will be coached by Paul Aigbogun, who coached the Northern Nevada Aces of the D-3 Pro League last season. Aigbogun didn't arrive until Tuesday because he was under contract by third division English club Bury F.C. The late arrival has only given him three training sessions with his new team before today's game.
General Manager Randy Roser, who was mostly responsible for bringing a PDL team to Carson City, and Carson High boys varsity head coach Jim Nealis will assist Aigbogun. The Wonders will play their first ever home game on May 10 against the Southern California Seahorses under the newly lighted Carson High soccer field.
"Once we get through the first game and work out the kinks and know exactly how many fans we're going to have, I think things will go well," Roser said. "If we could average 500 fans the first year I'd be happy. You want to run it like a pro team. We really want to get the kids involved. There's so much to do. We have the corporation set up and the franchise is done. The word is out. Now we just to start with the business side of it."
However, the players will be anything but pro caliber. Most of the 26 players on the roster are high school age players, while most of the players on the other teams' rosters will be Division I level players or former college stars with several years of PDL experience. Roser plans on adding several current college players once the spring semester ends next month.
PDL teams can have a 26-man roster but must have a minimum of three U-19 players. Teams can have five international players and eight players over 23 years old.
"We definitely plan to fulfill all the international players," Roser said. "We want to build a nucleus of players who have played college ball and are more experienced and keep them around to mentor the younger guys. We'll fill the rest of the roster with college players who won't be available until after the spring semester ends, which is sometime in May."
Four of the team's first five games are U.S. Open Cup games. The tournament serves as the United States' true national championship because all three professional levels (MLS, A-League, Pro Select League) participate, as well as the newly formed Men's Premier Soccer League (MPSL). Roser estimates first-year costs to be close to $100,000, which includes the $40,000 franchise fee, as well as travel expenses, uniforms and equipment.
"People have to remember this is a business," Roser said. "We can't pay the players. But if we run youth camps and things like that, players can earn money that way. They won't be paid to play. We have a five-year business plan and we're confident we can make money in the first year. But we're prepared to use the five-year plan. It's a business. If we're not making money, we got to look back and see what things we can do better the next year."
The PDL has a league-high 51 teams this season. Twelve new teams will play in the PDL this season, four each in the Central and Western Conferences, three in the Eastern and another in the Southern Conference.
Teams in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference are the Abbotsford Rangers, Calgary Storm Prospects, Cascade Surge, Spokane Shadow and Yakima Reds.
For more information, please contact team officials at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 884-9999. The team's official website is nevadawonders.com