"I believe it's just a matter of time for the sport to develop and mature"
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Welcome back to AP ladies and gentlemen! Portugal are now your European Champions. Major League Soccer is rolling through the summer heat, USL keeps expanding, and Miami FC of the NASL keeps on spending. Today's interview is a treat.
Hector Diaz is a renaissance man. Coaching and Academy Director, holder of a National B License, former Air Guardsman, and second generation American. He's got some great stuff to say about the game in the USA, and answers a couple of reader questions as well. Check it out.
First question is simple. Who you are, where you are from, and what your role is with Chula Vista.
Who am I? My name is Hector Diaz. I am a guy born and raised in San Diego, CA. First generation born in United States. My father and mother are from Southern Mexico in a small town called Cotija. I joined the Military at 20 (Air National Guard). I had my first license at 15. I currently have the B National License, Youth National and have coached in many championships. Last year I had the privileged of playing Sacramento Republic as we reached the 3rd Round of the U.S. Open Cup.
My role with Chula Vista is the Director of Coaching / Academy Director. A little bit of everything is involved. What I like most is thinking outside the box and doing what people say cannot be done. This past year we reached the 3rd Round of U.S. Open Cup and we also were awarded the U12 U.S. Soccer Development Academy status.
The club, Chula Vista FC, is located in the City of Chula Vista, which is the second largest city in the County of San Diego.
You got your first coaching license at 15? You must have known you wanted to be involved in soccer for a long time. What prompted you to get involved in the game at the coaching level, especially so early in life?
Actually I did not, It just happened. It is crazy how things happened that got me involved into coaching. My younger brother's coach quit soccer so my dad was coaching a rec team and decided to get involved. He did not want to go get his license on his own, and asked me if I would go with him. Being the older sibling I agreed, if they allowed me too. The Instructor agreed saying we needed younger coaches in the American system. I continued to grow myself, and eventually I had my C License.
Then I was looking to grab a new team as our team was aging out, and our league of registration was more where individual teams that formed just registered under. So I decided to move our teams to an existing league where I was offered the chance to continue to build our club. A lot of good people were involved, and it allowed me to announce "tryouts" and build a team. But now, the person I am, it doesn't allow me to stop. I really got involved and now, we have a full competitive club with a U23 that we started in 2010. Many clubs have followed the lead in growing the game at that age because the biggest problem in our country is the lack of lower divisions in the professional ranks. It takes time to build, but clubs to invest the time and money. At least I am comfortable saying we have. Now we have Albion Pro, North County Battalion, and San Diego Zest.
Becoming a coach by accident. That's really a good move by the instructor letting you into the class. He had some great foresight, especially when it comes to the need for younger coaches. Now, I've never been to Chula Vista, though I'm hoping to get out to San Diego and So Cal sometime soon. How would you describe your town, and it's soccer scene, to someone who has never actually been there?
Not by accident necessarily because I loved the game. My mom needed to wake me up for school, but for the soccer game I would be up knocking on there door to take me to the game. But the early change from competitive player to competitive coaching was triggered by the first coaching course.
Chula Vista is a hotbed for soccer talent. We are so close to Mexico, that the soccer culture is everywhere. Before the MLS, we had Liga MX, and many watched it. We grew up with the game, and it is a melting pot where we are fairly diverse. Chula Vista is the second largest city in the County of San Diego. And you could see soccer games at nearly every park.
Sometimes I believe if the U.S. Soccer would focus all its resources on one geographically area we would be best. Small European countries compete with us will a smaller population, but all resources go into that population. If we did the same, I think we would be more competitive. But that would be ignoring a big section of the country, and is that right? I dont know. If you could, Chula Vista would be an awesome place to pour all resources in, we already have the Olympic Training Center.
You make a really interesting point actually. California, Texas, and Florida have larger populations then most of the smaller European countries that are much better then us. Wouldn't be a bad idea to focus more resources on the more populated areas. Now, how did Chula Vista FC come into being? I guess you could, what's the teams origin story?
Chula Vista FC started as a youth club in 1982 before I was born. It's gone through several a name changes since than but it has had consistency within the leadership. We identified with our city real well, so under our new President and consultations with past two Presidents we agreed to adopt the name of our city and as our clubs name. Our U.S. Open Cup team started in 2010 when our 1993/1994 team was aging out. Our team won Cal South state cup 4 times (U9, U10, U15, and U19). Sent several players to our Youth National team, the Pros, and to college. We felt several players were overlooked, so we looked for a platform to continue. The first year we had to help create a league for ourselves. But every single year after we have been playing. And now on the youth side we have the U12 Development Academy and our U23 team is what we feel makes us unique.
So you are currently set up in a way that would allow an 8 year old kid to play with you all the way through the college?
Correct. Although, we do carry up to 6 players above U23 in our team to add experience
Your set up is incredible, and I applaud you for the work you've put in to making that happen. What league is your U-23 team currently competing in?
SoCal Premier League. It allow us to get into the Open Cup and has been very supportive. Now with two teams locally in the NPSL and one in the PDL, we are looking if one of those leagues will now be of interest.
I have heard of the SoCal Premier League, but I'm not to familiar with it. Is it a large league, covering Southern California, or more of a local league?
It's an adult league. Recently it went through a name change, used to be Coast Soccer League. But in order to distinguish themselves from the youth league they changed to SoCal Premier. Jurgen Klinnsman played in it, as well as other known players. It covers Southern California (Los Angeles and Orange County) during the fall. And the summer league (similar to PDL and NPSL schedules) it includes several San Diego County teams.
So it's actually a pretty sizable league then. Who would you consider to be your biggest rivals in the league right now?
We do not have one actually. There are a couple of games that we look forward too because they are highly competitive. On the other hand, we have only played them once, but Albion Pro of the NPSL is somewhat of a rivalry be a use of both clubs having youth teams underneath our adult teams. Kids look forward to that game.
I had actually forgotten that Albion Pro have a youth set up as well. Since you are a coach, and are in a unique position to speak on this, how important is it to have that kind of youth set up 'flowing up' to an adult first team? Does that provide extra drive and motivation for the youth players?
Albion initiated that concept this year. And yes I do believe in it, I think it's important for our community to experience a game live. Interact with soccer people. Eat some munchies, kick the ball around. As a young player I would go with my dad and watch an adult team he and my uncle formed. As I got older a couple times they needed player and I was the emergency sub. It felt surreal for me when I walked in the pitch to play. It was a faster, and I did not want to be the young kid that ruined it. And it felt good when I received a compliment.
It's already a big deal for kids development wise in normal things to get complimented by adults, even more so in a sports setting when you're wanting to go higher. Now, I do have some questions from readers I want to throw your way. This one is from Scott D, and you actually touched on his question a little bit already. He asks "What's the biggest single change or action the USSF could make to enhance youth development in the US?"
I truly believe that we are headed in the right direction. Some mentioned that the U.S. Academy has not produced into better results, but I believe it has improved youth soccer. I think we have made positive changes in our Coaching Education system, as well. I believe it 's just a matter of time for the sport to develop and mature. The one thing we need to grow is the lower divisions of professional soccer as it will provide a better platform than the college game.
I have another question from a reader for you. William Muncher would like to know your thoughts on the US soccer age 'chance mandate' and whether or not it actually combats the R.A.E.
I believe the new age mandate shifts us to a world wide standard. I do not think it "combats" an issue. It's a fact that many Youth National teams carry players from the early months of the year (January - May). We had a team (1993-1994) that is the base of our U23 now. We had 5 players go to the Youth National team that were 1994. I think they benefited from practicing against 1993 at every practice. How the system is setup now, they would not benefit from that. Although, in the U.S. Development Academy in the older age groups you have a mix of ages (U16 & U18), so they could. But that would depend on the club and coaching staff to carry the younger as well, not just the older players. We have to do a better job, especially U14 and above, to allocate by level of play and ability to grow, not just the age of the player.
Alright. Let's switch gears. Soccer in California is absolutely exploding. Soon to be 3 MLS teams, 2, potentially 3, USL teams, 1 NASL team, and the USPL, which has something like 30 teams in the state. And then the NPSL explosion, especially in SoCal. This question may be bare bones, but what is going on out there?
California is like a melting pot so you get many immigrants. They love the sport of soccer and it is played everywhere. People are hungry for more games. Yet room to grow is still there. If we compared California to Italy, they are roughly the same size geographically and economically. And Italy is able to support about 96 professional soccer teams. I understand that Italy has a huge soccer culture, but in California we do too. The current amount of professional teams we have aren't enough in my opinion. I believe U.S. Soccer Federation needs to be more involve in the development of its professional leagues. The biggest reason why we do not reach our potential is the lack of lower professional divisions that allow the younger to grow. After U18 Development Academy we have close to nothing. We need more club directors to think like that an invest in a U23 team for the good of the game. Regionalized professional 3rd division league would be key.
So another professional league would be more helpful, rather then more amateur teams? Why is that?
We have many amateur leagues. What we need is to develop our next generation of professional players. College does a great job of educating our young adults, but it does not develop professional soccer players. NCAA has too many restrictions. We need these players training with quality coaches, in a quality field, and against quality competition.
I've heard commissioner Peterson of the NASL mention something like this before, but with Florida. They have 4 teams in the state, and he said the league doesn't view it as too many since Florida is larger then a lot of countries. Do you think the same could apply to California if another people together to start a pro league there?
Yes, of course it would apply in California. It has the largest population by far in comparison to other states.
Why do you think it hasn't happened yet?
We did not grow up going to professional soccer games. We did not grow up following a team. Many people that migrated to America continue to follow their home countries soccer leagues. Although our youth soccer league have done a great job growing the sport in the country, we did not have the culture of game day. But that is changing, and it takes time. All we need now is passionate millionaires that not only invest not for the money, but as a rich person's passionate hobby.
MLS started not to long ago, and stuff like this takes time to develop. It is developing though, so something we cannot rush. I always hear the negatives, and how to improve. But rarely do we look at what we are doing good. The U.S. Development Academy was awesome, soccer education is good in our country, and now we need the Federation to assist the adult leagues in developing these regionalised professional leagues.
How exciting was that US Open Cup run last year, and how much of an impact has it made on the club as a whole?
The U.S. Open Cup was awesome! The experience was amazing, and we hope to get deep again. This past year we got eliminated from La Maquina who played L.A. Galaxy yesterday and went to overtime.
Impact on our older team was not as big as people would imagine because the buzz we created more semi-pro teams in San Diego; Albion, NC Battalion, and SD Zest.
We are glad we kind of helped semi-pro soccer get started again. We believe that will eventually push the MLS, NASL, or USL to see that San Diego would easily be able to support a team. And just being part of the excitement created to get that to happen is rewarding.
That's an interesting point. You guys lay the groundwork with a cup run, and that shows others what can be done in San Diego. Let's talk about Chula Vista itself. What makes your town special?
Second largest city in the County of San Diego. Huge soccer culture, since we have a big Mexican influence being close to the border. Yet we have the luxury of being more of a melting pot. We have the Olympic Training Center and a majority of athletes that train for summer Olympics live here. Many athletes, have reached the Little League World Series twice within the last decade.
Definitely sounds like your city is set up to ensure athletes succeed. What exactly do they do at the Olympic Training Center? Does the USMNT do any work there?
Olympic Training Center was the first master planned. All types of athletes train there; all Olympic sports. They have that one and Colorado. The USMNT has trained there. But it has mostly been the Womens, Womens youth teams,and our Paralympic National Team.
Right on. Ready for some short, rapid fire questions to wrap things up?
Cool. What's your favorite league and/or team to watch for fun?
League: The Premier League
Juventus! Have not heard that as a team to watch from anyone yet. Favorite player. One past, one present.
Del Piero and Giorgio Chiellini.
Very nice. Do you have a favorite book, soccer related or otherwise?
I do not. I read a lot of stuff, but do not have a favorite. Magazines I read. All subjects.
But definitely a non-fiction guy, instead of fiction.
Alright. Where can people find out more about yourself and about the team?
Our website, it's always being updated. www.chulavistafc.com
Now, to close, what would you like to say to the people reading this about why they should get out and support their local teams, like Chula Vista FC?
Go out and support them. If your community doesn't have one, start one. It's these grassroots efforts that will make the difference with our National team. Do not be a bandwagon fan, it's better if you are part of the growth of the game
Hector, I think that's a great way to wrap things up. Thanks for taking the time to do this.