Nevada Wonders coach stressing development, not results in first season
The Fresno Fuego aren’t Manchester United, AC Milan or Real Madrid. But they just might seem like it when the Carson City-based Nevada Wonders open their inaugural season today at 2 p.m. at San Joaquin Memorial Stadium in Fresno, Calif.
“I think for a lot of the young guys, Saturday is going to be an eye-opening experience,” said coach Paul Aigbogun. “They just won’t be used to this level.”
Half of Nevada’s players are still in or are only one year out of high school, guys like Carson’s Kirkwood Harris and South Tahoe’s Noe Estrada and Victor Mariscal. But Aigbogun, who was hired by General Manager Randy Roser, has already brought over five players from England. Premier Development League (PDL) teams can have a maximum of eight international players on their 26-man rosters and Aigbogun plans on filling that allotment. Once the college semester ends, Roser plans on adding numerous college players to help fill obvious voids.
So it goes without saying when Aigbogun saw what we had to work with at his first practice on Tuesday, his first thought was…
“A lot of work. This isn’t going to be about winning right away. It’s about development. If winning was the most important thing, we could go get 20 guys who could do that. But we’re trying to develop youth talent. And there are some good, young players here. But we’re going to need some help.”
The team’s most experienced and most influential player will be Sean Nealis, the younger brother of Carson varsity coach Jim Nealis. Sean Nealis, 26, played his college ball at the University of Vermont and played several years professionally with the Connecticut Wolves and Long Island Roughriders of the A-League, the United States’ second level of pro soccer. Another player the Wonders will need to look to will be Antonio Mora, who played with the Northern Nevada Aces of the D-3 League last season. Mora is also another older player with valuable experience that can keep the team afloat until reinforcements are brought in.
Of the five players Aigbogun brought over, though, several appear to be able to provide immediate help in a tough division. The Southwest Division of the Western Conference will be made up of the Nevada Wonders, Fresno Fuego, Southern California Seahorses, Orange County Blue Star and BYU Cougars.
Fresno will be have primarily Fresno Pacific University players, as well as others who have already exhausted their college eligibility. But since Fresno Pacific is an NAIA school, all those school’s players will be available for today’s game. NCAA rules prohibit its players from participating with teams outside the school unless school isn’t in session.
The BYU Cougars from Provo, Utah, is basically the club team for Brigham Young University. Although not an NCAA sanctioned sport, BYU has done well at the collegiate club level. The Cougars have won six of the past 10 national club championships. The division’s front runner is the Southern California Seahorses. The team is going into their third season in the PDL but have already made their mark. The Seahorses advanced to the playoffs last season and won the Western Conference before bowing out in the national semifinals. They have a 26-14-1 record in their first two seasons.
The Orange County Blue Star, though, could be the most talented team. In last year’s Major League Super draft, four players from the Blue Star were drafted. Most of the members came from big time college programs like UCLA and Cal State-Fullerton.
Jim Nealis, Aigbogun’s assistant, realizes the Wonders have their work cut out for them. But the team is in much better shape than they were when the team began practices in early March.
“Where we are now compared to where we were when we started five weeks ago, I’m really pleased,” Jim Nealis said. “It’s going to take a while. I really think things will get better once we get some college guys in here.”
2002 Regular Season Standings
Chico Rooks 13-4-1
So. California Seahorses 11-7
Orange County Blue Star 7-9-2
L.A. Heroes 6-10-2
Central Coast Roadrunners 5-13
*Chico left for the newly formed Men’s Professional Soccer League, L.A. and Central Coast have disbanded.