Fidel Gonzales has been working to bring high level soccer to the High Desert region of Southern California for the last several years. High Desert is situated east of Los Angeles and north of the Inland Empire. It is characterized by its elevation of between 2000 and 4000 feet, which distinguishes it from other parts of SoCal. It includes landmarks such as the California portion of the Mojave Desert and the Joshua Tree national park. The area has a population of around 750,000 spread across the cities and towns around Victorville and Lancaster.
The area was recently home to a single-A California League baseball team, the High Desert Mavericks, who started play in the region in 1991 and played their last game in 2016. Some soccer teams from High Desert have had success in the UPSL, including the SoCal Rush. While the Rush and a few other local teams have made great contributions, Gonzales feels the area is lacking in soccer programs that can help the diamonds in the rough in the High Desert region get noticed on a bigger stage. Along with this problem, the demise of the Mavericks has created an gap in the pro sports market in the area that Gonzales and his partners hope to fill. This is the genesis of the High Desert Elite project.
High Desert Elite will kick off in the National Premier Soccer League competitive Southwestern Conference next March. They will play out of Adelanto Stadium, the Mavericks’ former home, which they will make more friendly to soccer. High Desert Elite have strong financial backing with Brad Eckenweiler, CEO of cannabis technology company Lifestyle Delivery Systems. The early reception to the project in the local area from sponsors, local politicians and most important potential fans in the community has been very enthusiastic. The ambition for the project is to play at a pro level, possible as soon as Fall 2019 by joining the NPSL Founders Cup. While a decision to join the Founders Cup has not been finalized, it is under serious consideration.
We spoke with Fidel Gonzales, Director of Soccer Operations of High Desert Elite, to learn more about the project.
1. Why did you decide to start a new soccer club in the High Desert area of Southern California?
It began with SoCal Rush and their initiation of a UPSL team several years back. They happened to be one of the best organized professionally run clubs in the area. I kept an eye on that, and several players I had worked with went to play with them. However, there was not enough community support or political support to help them get to the next level.
For example, quality fields to play on are hard to come by in High Desert, so it discourages these kinds of efforts. We can get a stadium quality field at Silverlakes Sports Complex down in Riverside County for $150 for a 3 hour period. For a similar quality field up here, it will cost you $1750 for a 3 hour period, which makes it difficult for programs in the area.
2. What drew you to the NPSL?
NPSL has a strong stature among the lower leagues and projects significantly more professionalism and focus on their partners. When I began to first communicate more on this effort, I began to understand the value NPSL brings. The comradery and mentorship from the other team owners has been like gold to us. They are an open book. We would rather learn from their experiences, both good and bad, to give us the greatest opportunity for success. I can pick up the phone and ask someone very pointed questions that might in other industries be considered proprietary information, and you get a really helpful answer back really fast. Those are the intangibles that make the big difference.
3. Do you have a venue nailed down where High Desert Elite will play?
We are moving into the Adelanto Stadium which is a 3800 seat stadium off of 395 near interstate 15. Essentially it is a baseball stadium that the High Desert Mavericks used when they used to play here that we are converting to accommodate soccer. It is a professional venue. As time progresses we will plan further convert it to be a soccer specific venue.
4. You are coming into a very competitive Southwest Conference with the likes of ASC San Diego, FC Arizona, Orange County FC, FC Golden State among others. How do you plan to put together a team to compete at this high level?
It is absolutely one of the top conferences in the NPSL. Southern California is one of the hotbeds of talent in the country and the conference is representative of that strength. We believe we have untapped talent in the High Desert to compete. We are aiming for a top 5 finish in the conference. To accomplish that, we are putting together a solid squad of coaches which include individuals who have played and coached at an international level for their respective countries youth programs. We are looking to bring in coaches who know the talent in the area. The idea is to assemble a coaching staff that has both deep community roots and also some external experience to help us build up the talent in this area, identify, train, and develop from the youth level on up.
5. Can you tell us a little bit about the High Desert area of Southern California, as many of our readers may not be familiar with it?
Collectively High Desert is a group of cities that spans close to 1000 square miles throughout the Mojave Desert. It includes Barstow, Apple Valley, Hesperia, Victorville, Adelanto and other county outlying arounds. It is almost an island until itself because of the geography of the area. We want to develop a program here that cultivates the local talent. Aaron Long, a national team player, is from this area. However a lot of the talent in this area does not have the guidance and the training opportunities due to a lack of resources in the area. We believe we can fill that gap for the community. We believe our talent is on par with everywhere else, and we want to change the landscape for these players whether it is helping kids get college scholarships or pro opportunities. We are in the midst of assembling a coaching staff that knows the pathway to these opportunities.
6. Who are the investors in the team, and what are your backgrounds?
Brad Eckenweiler is the majority partner in the organization. He is the CEO of Lifestyle Delivery Systems, which licenses oral delivery technology for medical and recreational users of marijuana in states where it is legal.
7. What is the long term vision for the team? Do you see the short season competition as the right long term fit in High Desert, or do you think you can grow into something like the full season, so called “NPSL Pro”?
Yes, we definitely have a vision to move up in the ranks. Our community would most certainly support such an effort. We have the right team in the front office, and we believe the talent in area. We would love to enter into the Founders Cup. Just by the interest it has ignited, we should have support to make a move and be sustainable. There has been great political, business and community support for the project so far.
8. What else should the readers of Midfield Press know about your club?
High Desert is sort of landlocked by the Cajon Pass. Our objective is to serve as a conduit for players to be able to develop to a higher level than they were previously able to do so. Right now, the closest NPSL team is in Riverside so that opportunity does not exist in the region right now. We are the next level for the youth player this area, whether it is a player who did not have the grades or have the means to go to one of the top college programs but have tremendous talent. Our tryouts begin Monday, December 10th. We have some kids we have identified already from the area but we are open to looking at talent we can nurture whether they are in the later high school years or junior college. Not all soccer players are fashioned from top programs at Pac-10 universities. We want to provide an alternate path for talent in the region to grow into their potential.