The High Desert is home to roughly 400,000 residents that live north of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountain ranges. It is the gateway to the Mojave desert on your way to Las Vegas, the last glimpse of civilization before going to the open beautiful arid region of California. For such a unique community like the High desert, the people are always looking for things to unite the populace, to display pride beyond the local boundaries. One example was the High Desert Mavericks, who unfortunately ceased operations in 2017, was the community’s local sports team for almost 30 years. Although minor league baseball may not come back to HD, soccer in the High Desert has made great strides. Current defender for the New York Red Bulls and the United States Mens National Team Aaron Long is an Oak Hills native who went to Serrano High School. He then attended UCR before getting drafted to the Portland Timbers in 2014 and has enjoyed much success the past two years with the New York team and call ups to represent the country. More recently, the Oak Hills boys won Division 5 CIF champions and Girls won CIF State Division 2 Regional Champions early this year.
On a local scale, there is an amateur adult soccer team that wants to push forward the growth of the sport for the region. High Desert Football Club, based out of Hesperia, is one illustration of this cause. They compete in the United Premier Soccer League, also called UPSL. It is a national soccer league that has more than 300+ teams across the country including Alaska. The league is very unique in that its the only adult amateur soccer league in the country that features an internal promotion and relegation system. What is promotion and relegation? To put it simply, multiple divisions with a certain number of teams (usually 20 teams) play a regular season and consequences take effect based on your position when the season is over. For the last-place team in the first division, they get punished for their bad performance and get demoted to the second division while the champion of the second division moves to the first division and so on with the other divisions. The UPSL has 3 divisions that are broken up into conferences throughout the nation based on geography. HDFC competes in the SoCal South second division, meaning in a scenario if they get first place in standings they can get promoted to the first division or if they finish in last place they face relegation ( the third UPSL division is still in the working stages). Before the cancellation of the season due to COIVD, HDFC won their season opener 4-0 and were in second place in the standings before the league decided to cancel it altogether. The man leading the team is Michael Zamora, head trainer for HDFC. I got the chance to interview him and learn more about himself and understand how much this club means to him and the community it serves.
Tell us your soccer story? What got you into the sport, was it one event or something that’s been apart of your life?
I remember growing up as a young man in the high desert, sports were ingrained into my family. My father was an excellent baseball/basketball player who then became one of the most respected soccer coaches in the high desert, both of my sisters were ace soccer players at the club level, one of my sisters was a back-to-back CIF champion for Sultana High School. My cousin was one of the most talented players I’ve ever witnessed, who played academy soccer here at Arsenal & Golden State as well as Division II college ball. Soccer and sports revolved around my life, it was my life. Although I never reached the highest level as a player, I’ve achieved so much more and opened so many doors for myself as a coach, and I owe that all to sports.
What’s your role in HDFC and what are some of your responsibilities?
My role here at HDFC is the head trainer, so every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I am obligated to prepare all of our training sessions, conditioning, as well as prepare and select our final team for the weekend. I am responsible for preparing the players, instilling our culture, reviewing games through game film, and keeping them on their toes for the team and for possible selection. Myself, alongside our head coach, select 20 active players for our roster as we have over 35+ guys actively training with us throughout the week. It is my responsibility to assist the manager in selecting the 20 most prepared players to compete in the weekend’s match.
Tell us the journey or story of your involvement with HDFC?
The club HDFC has stood for years, we have established ourselves as one of the best clubs in the high desert. The idea of starting our UPSL team came about around the year of 2017/18, we had a large number of interested players who were already playing for another established team, and we merged and put the team together under the HDFC name. I didn’t get involved until the 2019/20 season, they were looking to up the staff a bit, and a lot of the players wanted me to get involved so I took the chance with open arms.
Besides a UPSL, what other levels does the team field?
The club at HDFC fields multiple club teams ranging from Bronze to Gold, as well as being linked to our recreational league who play at Hesperia Lakes. Many of the youngsters from the recreational league end up playing for our numerous club teams who have the opportunity to compete at the UPSL level when they reach that age. We’ve had several cases of this actually happening with a majority of our current team who played in our recreational league, who then played at the club level and now regularly feature in the UPSL team.
Why is the team located in the high desert?
The team is featured here in the high desert because prior to us there was no team competing at this type of level before in the desert, there is so much talent here and sometimes not enough opportunity, as well as practically all if not all of our players were home-grown talent born and raised here in the high desert. We pride ourselves in playing and developing home-grown talent to showcase how much talent is truly out here.
What are some things the team has achieved since it started? What are some goals the organization wants to achieve?
In terms of our trophy cabinet, there is still a lot left to accomplish, but one of our main accomplishments was competing to the very end of the 2019/20 season and nearly gaining automatic promotion to the first division. We finished second, losing only by one point, in a very competitive Western Division II league. Our main goal is to qualify and compete in the first division of UPSL, we want to establish ourselves as one of the best teams not only in the high desert but in the entire UPSL, and knowing we were so close to taking that step only pushed even further to accomplish that goal.
Since the pandemic has paused playing in the UPSL, how has this affected the team and what are they doing during this crisis?
The pandemic hit us hard and suddenly, we were preparing for our second league game of the season when everything was suddenly paused. Our facilities were closed, so we couldn’t train, a lot of the players as well as myself were affected extremely. Our schedule of working, then having training, going to watch some film, playing on the weekend all of it was put on hold. Around 3 months later we began training again with small groups as well as the proper safety precautions for those only to be put on hold as well. A lot of the players run, train on their own, or workout to keep themselves sharp and prepared for our return.
What are some principals that make up the culture of the team?
Our main motto at HDFC is “Together As One” that no matter what no individual ego, player, coach, or any single person is more important than the entire team. We win, we win together, we lose, we lose together, but no matter what we continue on our push together. That general idea is input into every foundation we’ve built, whether that’s training or games. No matter what we continue our push Together As One.
How is the talent from the HD compared to other teams from other areas?
It’s quite simple, there is so much hidden talent out here in the high desert. We all know of the talent in the IE but when you look closer or you watch our games you see there are so many hidden gems out here in the high desert. So many players who go under the radar, because there aren’t that many eyes looking our way. A majority of the players I played alongside were good enough to play at the highest level, many of them accomplished so much here in the desert, but the opportunity never manifested itself to pursue further than that. So many teams we play against are shocked to see how talented and well organized we truly are.
Last question, what would you like the legacy of this team to be? What’s something you like people to remember about the club?
Ultimately, our goal is to develop and establish ourselves into one of the most respected and accomplished sides in the UPSL. Not only do we want to win absolutely everything, but we also want to ensure a future in the sport that all of our players love. We started this team to present another opportunity for guys who never made it out, who were talented enough to do it, but never got the chance. I want people to remember our club for being that stepping stone for bigger and better things to know that they have an opportunity here and when they train with us, compete with us, and ultimately one day wear our crest they know of our history and our culture we have set in stone.