"There is no homegrown soccer club like Buena Park FC."
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Hello again everyone, and welcome back to American Pyramid! Today's interview is thanks to the Qualifying Rounds of the US Open Cup. Each year, I find out about new teams to interview when these rounds take place, and this year yielded Buena Park FC. Arturo took some time to talk about his club, it's history, and US Open Cup. Unfortunately Buena Park FC lost in the final qualifying round 4-0 to the LA Wolves. But when your opponent is scoring goals like the one you can see by clicking Here, there is no shame.
I'm excited to share this with you, and hope you can learn as much from it as I did. Check it out.
Tell readers a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your roll is with Buena Park FC.
My name is Arturo Gutierrez, 30 years young. I was born in Mexico City, Mexico and came to Southern California at a very young age. I grew up in Long Beach and eventually moved to the La Palma and Buena Park area during my early teens. I am the founder, president, manager, and coach of Buena Park FC. I basically do it all minus the playing. I consider myself retired now from competitive play due to an injury which you'll soon to find out. I am also the Head Coach at Kennedy High School and CDA Slammers FC - Cerritos Boys 2000.
How did you come to be a fan of soccer?
I come from a traditional Mexican soccer family where my dad, uncles and aunts played the sport. I guess I really became a fan when my mom took me to the Rose Bowl during the 1994 World Cup and even though we didn't go inside to watch the game, I instantly fell in love with the atmosphere and world love for the beautiful game. I then asked my mom to put me on a team and been playing ever since.
What's the 'origin story' behind the creation of Buena Park FC?
Buena Park FC began as an indoor team in 2010 between Kennedy High School alumnus as a way to stay in shape and play with old friends. Since most of us lived in Buena Park at the time, we named it Buena Park FC. Many of the original BPFC players were part of the Kennedy High School 2003-04 CIF Championship runs. Carrying the tradition from our high school glory days, we adopted The Fighting Irish as our logo. In 2013 while playing for the LA Galaxy's supporters group tournament, the Riot Squad Champions League, I suffered a "freak" accident and dislocated my hip while playing. Unsure of my future career as a soccer player, I began to dedicate myself to coaching. After many discussions and phone calls with teammates during my recovery phase, I decided to take a leap and convert Buena Park FC from an indoor team to a full field 11v11 team. That summer we joined the SoCal Premier League, formally known as the Coast Soccer League during that time.
Oh, man, that's a rough injury. But a good step forward, starting a club. Was it hard process making the switch from indoor to a full 11v11 outdoor team?
Yeah, definitely a rough injury. The process to converting BPFC to a full 11v11 outdoor team wasn't as rough though. With our past success in high school and college soccer at the time, we had some soccer resources. I say "we" since it was a group project that was formed between the original indoor BP squad which consisted of myself, Chris Overton, Wayne Kao and Jereme Arrunategui, and newly formed members like Rudy Tapia, Michael Portillo and Daniel Gutierrez. Once the word got out about us starting a new outdoor team, players began to show up to our open practices/tryouts right away. What really inspired me was the amount of younger Kennedy alumni that started to show, which many of them are still with us today like Nate DaRosa (captain and leading scorer for BPFC and Kennedy), Justin Funes, Moss Guadarrama and Michael Portillo. For the record all the names mentioned so far are Kennedy Soccer alumni ranging from Class of '04 to '13. Once we got the numbers we needed, it was time to find somewhere to play. It came down to an established and known amateur soccer league, Coast Soccer League (CSL), now known as the SoCal Premier League, and a very young small league named the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL).
What is it like playing in the SoCal Premier League? Is it a pretty high quality of play? Any really strong rivalries?
I am glad we chose to start with the SoCal Premier League. It is a non-profit league run by volunteers and fans of the sport. It is well organized and the quality of play is great. There are three different divisions: 3rd Division for beginning clubs, 2nd Division for clubs that are at strong level and want to challenge themselves, and the Premier Division that consists of well organized clubs with high quality players. We started our journey in the 2013-14 season in the 3rd Division and have battled our way up the the Premier Division.
Most Premier teams consist of ex-college players, off-season college players staying in form, and some ex-pro players. For example in the past the league has hosted teams like Chivas USA, Doxa Italia, Corinthians USA, and PSA (played LA Galaxy in the Open Cup a couple years ago). We have also faced some well known names like Rodrigo Gral with Corinthians USA, who played professionally in Brazil and Japan, and had some caps with the Brazilian National team, and Christian Ramirez with PSA, who is currently scoring goals with Minnesota United in the MLS. Our very own Nathan DaRosa is well known in the league as a scoring threat. He has at least over 50 goals in the past four years in all competitions. Not every team has high profile names, but I will say the quality is one of the best for amateur soccer in America.
What's a good club and league without rivalries? We have plenty... Since our inaugural season in 2013, we began to accrue many teams as rivals. As the newcomers, we defeated established clubs that began to question who is this new team Buena Park FC? Real Sociedad were the first, since most of their players played in the same indoor league as us in the past, we squared off in multiple finals. Geographically, Artesia DES are our rivals. Separated by a couple street lights, Artesia and Buena Park began to form a local derby that is still a great match when we face each other. AC Brea Steaua is friendly, but sometimes an unfriendly rivalry. The manager, Criss, and I are good soccer buddies, and always try to field our best squads when we meet. Outbreak SC and SoCal FC Real and two strong rivalries that showcase a high quality match and always tough to get a victory. During our first two season while in the 3rd Division and 2nd Division, we managed to knock both teams out of the RB Cup, league tournament similar to the FA Cup in England where all divisions compete versus one another, in which both teams were a division higher than us at the time.
How many teams are there currently in the SoCal Premier League's three divisions?
Currently there are 25 teams: 9 in Premier, 9 in 2nd Div, and 7 in 3rd Div. Each team plays a home and away series.
Let's talk about the RB Cup. What's it like playing in an almost miniature, local version of the US Open Cup?
Just like the US Open Cup, the Raul Briones Cup was and is a great way to expose our players, club and brand. Without the RB Cup during our early years in the league we wouldn't have been able to test ourselves versus established and higher division clubs. I believe the RB Cup is a great competition that the league provides. It starts out with a group stage between the 2nd and 3rd division teams. The top seeded teams get matched up versus the Premier teams in the Final round of the cup. From there it's a home and away series similar to the EUFA Champions League. It gives the smaller clubs a chance for "cupsets" and the bigger clubs a chance for silverware.
I'm interested in how you finished your answer earlier about choosing between the Coast Soccer League and the UPSL. Almost reads like a cliffhanger, and then you mention being glad you chose to start in what is now the SoCal Premier League. Are there any plans to try and take the team higher, so to speak, and join a league like the UPSL?
At that time the UPSL consisted of one division with 7-8 teams. Only reason we went with the CSL was because they were a better known and established league, and many of our players were playing for teams scattered throughout the league and divisions. The decision was made after we joined the 2013 CSL Summer League and went undefeated until our last game losing to OC Crew. We ending with a 5-1-1 record. That summer we defeated a Premier team and two 2nd division teams. This gave us the idea that we can compete and possibly work our way up in the league. Which we have, started in the bottom and have worked our way up to the Premier over three seasons.
We have had some stints in the UPSL. In 2015 we competed in the UPSL Admiral Cup and UPSL Summer League.
In the Admiral Cup we drew the LA Wolves in the first round, which we have been drawn to host them recently in the US Open Cup. We lost 3-4 in our first away match after leading 2-0 at half. A PK and red card ended up costing us the game as the Wolves, led by former LA Galaxy player, Paolo Cardozo ended up defeating us. Our second match at home ended in a 2-2 tie where we lost the series to an aggregate scoreline. This woke us up in terms of how much potential our club had in competing versus really strong players and teams. Similar to our beginnings with the CSL, we defeated many UPSL teams and made a name for ourselves in the Southern California amateur soccer world. We ended with a record of 8-2-3 only losing to the LA Wolves and San Pedro Monsters. Unfortunately, we withdrew from the tournament due to the season going past the summer and the SCP (SoCal Premier) starting in the Fall. It was a tough decision to make, but due to lack of funds and not expecting the season to last as long as it did, we went back to our roots with SCP. Even though we withdrew and forfeited our last 8 games, we still qualified for the playoffs that took in place that Fall.
The UPSL has grown drastically in the past couple of years expanding to multiple states and divisions. How good is the competition in those states and divisions, so to speak, is unknown? The UPSL is always something we talk about within our club. The future is still uncertain on where Buena Park FC will play next season/year, but I tell the guys all the time we still have to prove ourselves by winning a title in the SCP before challenging ourselves to win a UPSL title. Our best finishes in the SCP is semi-finalists of the RB Cup and 3rd place in our first year in the Premier in 2015-16.
Not sure if this something you can answer, but who is Raul Briones, the man the RB Cup is named after?
Raul Briones is the founder of the league from 1976 and helped grow the league and amateur soccer in Southern California.
Do you feel like the soccer scene in LA is overly crowded at all, or is there still room for more growth?
It's crowded, but not overly crowded. I am sure at one point it will be since the sport is growing every year, but there is so much space and potential that more clubs, players and coaches are emerging constantly. There is definitely still room for more growth, especially on the men's amateur and semi-pro levels.
I've only ever driven threw the LA area. Once in the evening, once really early on a Sunday, so I don't have a good feel for your city. How would you describe Buena Park, and the soccer scene, to an outsider like myself? Sell me on your city and soccer, so to speak.
If you Google Buena Park, most people will recognize the Knott's Berry Farm amusement park. Buena Park is considered as North Orange County as we are right on the county line between LA and OC. Other than an amusement park we only have a small mall, some downtown restaurants and attractions, a high school, a library, and our soccer team. Out here in SoCal, it's a mix of suburbia living with some city life. There is always some where to go and do, but things sometimes close early.
The soccer scene in the area is great. Youth soccer, club and AYSO, is everywhere. You can drive down the streets and if you look at the parks and schools you will see soccer goals and practices going on throughout the evenings.
On our level, we were one of the first teams to start competing in the area. Aside from Artesia DES in Artesia, there was no other men's team within miles. Now you have Anaheim Legacy (UPSL) in Anaheim and SoCal Troop (UPSL) in Cypress. Various teams have tried, but unfortunately are no longer competing like La Mirada Mirauders (SCP) and La Habra FC (UPSL). The one thing that we are still missing, a lot of, is the big fan base like in other states. It always amuses me when I look at some clubs in other states and the amount of supporters that go to their matches, it's incredible. Out here, we don't have much of that. If were lucky we'll have 20-30 spectators at our games, which are mostly made up of girlfriends, friends, and family. We have fans, but no super fans I guess. Our level of play is high as we have some very skilled players that I, at least, enjoy watching all the time while coaching. Maybe and hopefully in the future?
Are there any players on your current team that you would recommend people keep an eye, especially as you continue progressing in the US Open Cup?
Yes, definitely. Our captain Nathan DaRosa is our most know name. DaRosa is a quick and physical player, and can score at any given minute in a match. If I were to relate him to any professional player, it would be Ronaldo of Brazil. Of course he isn't Ronaldo, but if you watch DaRosa play, he has the same explosive attacking threat. His speed will gas your defenders and his shots, left or right footed, will test your goalkeeper. Nate is a Kennedy alumnus, class of 2012, and scored over 40 goals as part of the back to back Empire League Champs seasons his junior and senior year. At Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Nate scored over 20 goals and helped the Rustlers win a league title, but came short in the semi-finals of playoffs and lost to eventual champions Mt. San Antonio College. As for his BPFC stats, he is one of the originals that joined us in the summer of 2013 and has scored 50+ goals. He has a bright future, as I am in talks with Orange County FC of the NPSL for a potential transfer for their next season. If Nate isn't scoring goals, he is creating chances for his teammates like Justin Funes.
One of the four Funes brothers that have played for us, Justin Funes is also a notable mention. Also an alumni of Kennedy, class of 2011, Justin can play anywhere on the pitch. Primarily used offensively in the attacking mid or forward position, Funes can play winger, fullback and center back. First team Empire League defender, Justin also played at GWC with Nate the same season they won league, and recently graduated from La Verne University where he played and started for two seasons. Justin is known for his speed and finishing, if you give him the space and ball to his feet, he will add another goal or assist to his stats. If Nate is having a tough match or getting double teamed, Justin rises to the occasion and will penalize any opposing team. In the recent Cup match versus Santa Clarita Storm, Justin scored a hat trick to lead us to the next round. Just like in their high school and college days, the DaRosa and Funes pair is a tough one to defend. Usually one, if not both, will handle business for BPFC.
Our other captain, Grant Carlson, leads our defense at center back and some times center defensive mid. A graduate from a well known soccer programs, Servite High School in Anaheim and Sonoma State in Northern California, he's played and coached in England and Australia. Although Grant is not a Kennedy alumni, he is currently on my coaching staff at Kennedy as my Assistant Varsity Coach. Carlson is known for his vocal commands to keep the squad structured and organized during play, as well as his physical appearance, despite being 5 foot 8, during challenges and aerial plays. Carlson joined BPFC after recruiting him from the Outbreak SC reserves team from the 3rd division after we defeated them in the RB Cup Quarter-Finals in 2015 - mutual friends helped the process as well as his high interest in joining our club. Carlson officially joined us during our stint in the UPSL summer league and has since solidified our defense in the Premier Division of the SCP.
On the topic of fan bases, do you think a solid, Christos FC type run in the USOC could help you get some attention and build a larger fan base?
I do, as in a larger fan base that follows our social media to see our weekly results in games, but I don't think it will grow anytime soon in terms of attracting hundreds of super fans to the games. Our rivalry and high competitive matches like the US Open Cup will attract a more than normal attendance, but I still think there's a gap of interest to get a big following at our matches here in SoCal in terms of amateur soccer. Not just our team, but everyone else too.
What are two or three challenges you've encountered at Buena Park, on and off the field, and how have you overcome them?
One major challenge is consistency in players throughout the whole season. Yes, we have very committed group of players with a base of 7-8 players who show every time, but in the world of amateur soccer it is tough to get your very best every single game. Everyone has a job, family, and other hobbies, and mixed with injuries, it makes it sometimes difficult to field your strongest squad every match. Last Premier season for example, we started out great in the beginning and mid season, but due to injuries and players being transferred to bigger clubs we had a difficult time closing out the season in the top 3. On the most part we show up with our best, but at times it only takes that one game or two where your missing some players to lose or tie. We are better off than most clubs because our roster consists of a close group that have known and played together for a long time, but you never know when your going to get that call or text before a match.
Keeping morale up is tough sometimes as well. As an amateur club we don't pay any of our players, in fact, most of them pay to help out with the team budget to pay off items like field fees, officials, and competitions. When we're on a low after losing or tying matches in a row, it hits all of us. We definitely don't give up, but we have to all somehow keep pushing each other to come to practice and play every weekend. It's not always a challenge because we all want to win and succeed, but we have had some rough times in the past.
Another challenge that we've encountered is having a home field and an every week practice session. We now play our home games at Kennedy High School, but it wasn't always like this. It took us three years to secure Kennedy and gain the trust of the school district and school to use their facilities. We used to have to play in various fields with farther drives and couldn't really consider the field our true home. After years of communication with the Anaheim High School District and Kennedy High School, we were able to consistently book a permit to play on the same field most of us did when we were in our glory days. Of course, coaching at Kennedy helped out a lot, but in the end they noticed we were a legit club seeking for the good of the sport. As in practice, we try and train once a week. I say practice, but really we don't hold a real practice, instead we play pick-up soccer where we divide each other into teams and play some fun and competitive games. We don't have a budget for practice fields, and since we don't have lights at Kennedy, we're forced to look for spaces in parks under lights to play. We usually get a good number of players that show up every Wednesday or Thursday, depending when players are more available, but it's finding a good spot that is the challenge.
In a similar vein, what are two or three success you've enjoyed at Buena Park, on and off the field?
In our few years of existence, we have grown quite a bit. A big success is seeing how big our club has grown from 8-10 original members from the indoor soccer team, to now 50-60 members when you include our reserves squad, BPFC Plus, who competes in the league's 3rd division. Over all, we have had over 100 players come and go. I get emails often from players all over our area asking for tryouts. This wasn't something I expected at first, but since we have grown to have a community reputation, players want to play for BPFC. We have had players from all over the world play for us like France, Senegal, Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, South Korea and Philippines.
One of my favorite successes so far that has come out of Buena Park FC is the camaraderie that has built up over the years between our players. We have a great mix of guys. We have the "olders" who are from that CIF generation at Kennedy and the "youngers" who are from that League Championship generation at Kennedy. Both great groups, and when we mix our veterans with the younger talent, we are a team that is very difficult to defeat. We are always learning from each other on and off the field. Most of us olders where in our second prime out of college when we started the outdoor team in our mid 20's and the youngers were barely out of high school. Aside from seeing all of us grow as a team, we have literally seen each other grow up in life.
On the pitch, BPFC, has had some great success as well. We have managed to create a strong club from the beginning with our early success in the 2013 summer league and have been able to climb up the rankings to the Premier Division. Our record to this day, including all competitions, is 80-26-41 - it still amuses me that we have played that many matches. We have been able to fight off bigger clubs and get results. We have been able to square off versus high profile names like Christian Ramirez, Rodrigo Graul, Paolo Cardozo, and Cristian Esnal.
Overall theses successes have kept us going. We're still a young team with old with experience, but with a perfect mix.
Let's wrap this up with some short questions. What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
Premier League - Manchester United
Favorite soccer players, one past, one present.
Ronaldo - Brazil and Messi - Argentina
Do you have any books or podcasts, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend to people reading this?
I don't. If you have a recommendation, let me know!
If you could meet one person from soccer history, who would it be?
Where can people find out more about you and Buena Park online?
We have a website - buenaparkfc.com. Also have a Facebook at facebook.com/buenaparkfc and Instagram @buenaparkfc
What would you say to someone asking you why they should get out there and support their local non-league team, like Buena Park FC?
There is no homegrown soccer club like Buena Park FC.
Arturo, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the content I'm putting out, I'd encourage you to click here to Follow me on Twitter, or here to Like the page on Facebook. Make sure to spread the word by sharing these interviews, telling friends about the blog, those kind of things. I can't accomplish my goal of maximum exposure for all levels of the American Soccer Pyramid without YOU. Until next time, Stay Loyal, Support Local.