Welcome back to the Pyramid readers! I wanted to thank everyone for participating in the Twitter poll last week that determined the next few weeks worth of interviews. We've got some real exciting stuff lined up for you, starting with this.
Before we delve into things, I've got a quick announcement. American Pyramid has teamed up with Non-League America to provide a more comprehensive amount of coverage and content for the lower levels of American soccer. This will include a page on their website containing our articles, and I'm hearing something about AP pins...Go check them out, they've got some great content up already and our totally worth a look.
Back to this interview, Lonnel Baisey reached out to AP over Twitter back before Christmas. Due to the holidays and the surprising amount of responses to interview requests, this is the first opportunity I've had to get this out here. It was a fun interview, and there's a very substantial, story like section explaining the teams origin taken directly from the team website. Check it out.
American Pyramid: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, what your role is with Gorilla Elite FC?
Lonnel Baisey: I was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. My name is Lonnel Baisey and I am the CEO and owner of Gorilla Elite FC. Gorilla Elite FC is an amateur football club designed to fill the gap that exists in Arizona between youth soccer and soccer at the highest level. We have coaches that have played at the collegiate level as well as some of the best strength and conditioning trainers in the state of Arizona. I myself have helped train some of Arizona’s top athletes.
How did you come to be involved with Gorilla Elite, and how did this team come to be?
The story of the team’s origin and how I became a part of it is as follows, this comes straight from our team blog, since it's a little long.
"Gorilla Elite FC is a newly formed amateur soccer team based in Phoenix, Arizona. The club may have only been founded in 2015, but the club’s roots delve deeper into the soil of time than 2015.
The year is 1986. This is the year a man found himself in the Valley of the Sun with a vision. That man is Luis Dabo. Dabo was born in the African nation of Guinea-Bissau and once played for one of Portugal’s most decorated clubs, Benfica. After some professional coaching stints that in 1986 Dabo founded Santos Futbol Club in Phoenix. Right from the start, he made one thing clear: "It's not about winning. It's about developing the person."
Dabo’s coaching is founded upon building of the person. The well respected coach has even won a national youth-boys title, but is more proud of his team not having collected a single yellow card during the duration of the tournament. Dabo’s vision is to have his players develop into, mature, self-reliant individuals on and off the pitch. A vision he shared with the CEO and Owner of Gorilla Elite FC, Lonnel Baisey.
Lonnel Baisey, referred to as “Coach L”, owns Gorilla Elite Training, LLC, a program that trains athletes in a variety of different criteria to improve their performance. Coach L began present-day Gorilla Elite FC with only a group of young men he was training to boost their performance in soccer. As the group became close with one another and with Coach L, they urged him to form a team and join a league to compete in. Coincidence or fate, the timing was perfect.
News of the United Premier Soccer League’s expansion into Arizona broke out and Coach L was quick to gather information and ultimately purchase a league franchise. Thus, Gorilla Elite FC was born. Coach L took to the teachings of his mentor and friend, Luis Dabo, and now aspires to take his team of young men and serve as a tool to turn them into great men.
The program is tough, but the determination instilled within the men by the philosophies passed from Dabo to Coach L is ever-enduring.
Coach L is not shy in sharing his aspirations. He expects nothing but the best performance from his team and his organization as a whole. With that being said, the purpose of the club is something he says at some point in time during every practice: “turn good men into great men”. Gorilla Elite FC is here to serve as a bridge. A bridge from good to great. A bridge from amateur to professional."
How did you come up with the name for your team? By the way, big fan of the logo. Simple and clean.
In my eyes, the gorilla is a very majestic creature. Gorillas are beings of immense power, but also are able to reserve that power. It’s kind of the old “with great power comes great responsibility” saying. The gorilla is an admirable creature and our program strives to live up to that and uphold those characteristics at the highest level, hence the “Elite” part of the name.
The logo was made by a local company we work with, I’ll be sure to pass on your complements.
Where exactly is your team located in Phoenix, Arizona?
Gorilla Elite FC is located in the heart of Phoenix where one in five kids lives below the poverty line. I wanted to find a way to rebuild the community I once lived and grew up in.
How has your local soccer community responded to the team?
The soccer community has been waiting for a program like Gorilla Elite FC for a long time. I see the first year as a Soccer Development Academy. As I said before one in five kids lives below the poverty line in Phoenix. I saw an opportunity to help rebuild the local community when the UPSL announced its intentions to expand into Arizona and I took it. We have guys all across the metropolitan area interested in the program and every local business we’ve been in touch with loves the idea and vision. Everybody in the area is interested in us.
Tell me a little bit about the league you're in, the United Premier Soccer League. What kind of advantages does it have over other leagues that the team could be playing in?
The advantages of playing in the UPSL are easily the associated costs. All the teams are located in an acute section of the southwest, so travel costs are almost minimal. Also the $1,500 franchise fee is far less than joining national amateur leagues like the NPSL or USL PDL.
Now, the UPSL started off as a California league, but has spread out to Arizona and Nevada. Does that present any challenges for you, or are there enough teams in Arizona you don't have to travel out of state?
The scheduling of the league is still being worked out. Currently, there are three other Arizona teams with another set to join next season. I can not comment on what the scheduling will look like.
Does the UPSL have a long term vision for their league and your teams role in that future?
Yes. The UPSL is at work in making for a long term sustainable league and have Gorilla Elite FC as a big part of future development. I can’t comment further on the matter.
What do you feel needs to happen for your first UPSL season to be a success?
I always say, "never stop dreaming, keep believing". I have found it important to keep reminding the players in the program that this is a legitimate mean to progress their level of play and possibly reach the next level of soccer. It has become apparent to me that players here in Arizona have extensive experience in being let down by other programs that have promised the same thing. Reassuring our players is key.
Are there any challenges you face as a team, since there's already a pro team in town with Arizona United?
The only challenges we face come from within our own organization. We are currently only concerned with developing our own program and the level of play for the players within the program.
Can you describe the soccer scene in Arizona for me? I know there's a lot of people who live there already and moving more in all the team, but the soccer scene has seemed fairly quite.
The soccer scene here in Arizona has been gasping for air for quite some time. Youth soccer here has been a big thing for quite some time and the large Hispanic community has always brought a number of local leagues to play in from youth to adult. Soccer is undoubtedly a popular thing here in Arizona and this is shown by the attendance numbers of major soccer events that take place her. We are the largest metropolitan area without an MLS team. The highest level of soccer here is Arizona United and they compete in third division and have seemingly failed to connect with a majority of the soccer community here. Gorilla Elite Training Program is trying resuscitate and breathe life into the Arizona soccer community. I have been connecting owners and small business together, away from the public eye. Hopefully we can make some noise here in Arizona
On a side note, I find it funny how any representation of Phoenix and Arizona in movies or TV shows has always been some deserted spot in a dry desert. Phoenix has a metropolitan area of around 5 million people with infrastructure and activity same as any other large city. We have a successful NHL team in the Coyotes, well supported NFL and NBA teams in the Cardinals and Suns, respectively, and a competitive MLB team in the D-Backs. Professional sports do well here and soccer is no exception, it will only take the right movement for the soccer scene to be well known.
Why should the average soccer fan, both in Arizona and across the US, care about Gorilla Elite FC?
That’s the question. I don’t like to reveal too much of the planned future, so let me just say this: Gorilla Elite FC is more than a soccer team. Our organization hopes to impact the community and the lives within it. We aspire to excellence in soccer and in the life of the individual. The future is bright for Gorilla Elite, keep your eyes on us.
Cast a vision for me: Where do you see Gorilla Elite FC in 5 years?
We’ll be some part of a soccer movement her in Arizona, I can tell you that.
Bonus Questions: Who's your super early pick to win the MLS Cup next year?
I hear it is the dawn of the Portland Timbers’ reign.
What's your favorite book, regardless of genre?
There are too many good reads for me to decide in all honesty.
Who's your favorite current soccer player?
Do you have a favorite soccer book, movie or podcast?
The GOAL movies were entertaining.
What's your favorite league and/or team to watch?
I’m always proud to watch my own team take the field. I think that’s natural.
Where can people find out more about yourself and the team? (I can put links in later if you'd like)
Our website is www.GorillaEliteFC.com. Like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/gorillaelitefc. The best way to stay up-to-date with events and game recaps is through our blog, www.gorillaelitefc.blogspot.com
What would you like to say to the people reading this article about why they should get out and support the lower level teams and leagues of American soccer? (Feel free to grandstand if you want, this is your soapbox)
It is the future of soccer in the United States. Enough said.
Lonnel, thanks for taking some time to talk with me, good luck with the upcoming season. Thanks again for taking the time to read, and hopefully share, this interview. This blog has really taken off beyond expectations and I'm looking forward to seeing where we can this. Help spread the word by giving us 'Follow' on Twitter or a 'Like' on Facebook, and like I said at the start, check out Non League America. We're hoping to do some big things, and we'd love it if you'd come along for the ride. Until next time, Stay Loyal, Support Local.