On December 18th, the Ontario fury held a state of the fury zoom call with team owner Jeff Burum, coach Jimmy Nordberg, staff, and fans about some announcements with the team for the upcoming year. This zoom call, one of the many that the indoor team has held, involved new owner Jeff Burum who gave some insight as to what to expect next year. I got the chance to listen in on what will happen with the team once January comes.
Since the founder and original owner Bernie Lilavois left this past summer, the team has made some changes, albeit mostly via social media. The amount of fan input via zoom calls is something the MASL team has been doing since the state’s progressive shutdowns, gave fans a chance to engage with staff and players. Also, having a podcast called Stryking Fury provides a higher level of transparency to fans as to what the team does outside of the field. To add, the podcast would be regularly scheduled to be released with new episodes after regular-season matches would be done. At the moment, hosts Christian “Filly” Filimon and wife Amanda “The Panda” Filimon interview players and coaches about their playing careers as well as looking into the lives on a more personal level. All of these additions bring a noticeable change to the organization.
Regularly for the past couple of weeks, the Fury have been constant with open zoom invitation meetings to fans, and on this occasion, I got the chance to attend and learn what to expect for the new year. The panelist or host led the conversation to mostly asking the new owner about his involvement with the team, the organization’s goals, updates on the team, and maneuvers with the COVID shutdowns.
The conversation began with the host asking Mr. Burum to review the previous season to start the discussion. For background, Jeff Burum has been involved with the team for seven years and has been a staff member since the team’s beginning. He reviewed the season by saying there was “too much” talent that the coach had to deal with in the locker room. However, most of the veteran players like Nestor and the Tayou brothers have returned, which the owner said wasn’t easy to do.
At this point, the host would ask a couple of questions to tell more about the owner’s intentions with the team moving forward and what’s to come next year. I would paraphrase his responses below.
Why did you purchase the Fury? Even in these hard times?
Jeff started by saying that he had a press box at the then Citizens Business Bank Arena since the first day it opened. He personally never played at any level, but both of his kids have played, and once he got introduced to indoor soccer, he fell in love with it. Burum enjoys the quick and fast pace, as well as the high scoring, admitting that Americans who grew up with American football like himself can get into the game and have in the past. He gave a quick comparison to the Michael Jordan documentary series where the indoor Chicago team did better in attendance than the NBA back in the 80s and 90s. He ultimately decided to finally take over when Bernie introduced him to the person who managed the arena at the time.
What is your five-year vision of the Fury? Do you think we could see the team on television?
One thing Jeff mentioned clearly that within the next 3-5 years, if the Fury does not win a championship, the whole organization, from himself, fans and players, should be disappointed. He mentions that the team has the talent to do it. As far as seeing the game on television, Jeff briefly touched on getting internet streaming for all the games via Facebook or another method. By 2022, he hopes that Ontario fury games will be on charter and spectrum in the market that extends from Corona to the high desert, and as a league, the MASL will try to work with Univision to get key matches on the Spanish speaking network.
What does the next season look like?
The season will begin in early to mid-January. The Midwest teams are most likely to play each other as the states cleared them to play. The east coast teams are trying to do the same, while on the west coast, Tacoma and San Diego will open up at the end of January with their first games on the road. The Fury will start on the road in early February. First in the schedule would be Midwest teams like Dallas and Kansas City. To update on the players, Jeff mentioned that players are already doing workouts 2-3 times a week at a local park (Ralph M Lewis Sports Complex), posting progress to the coach with an app to track them. The team would report for physicals on January 3rd, with full practice starting the following day. So far, there 16-17 players signed, and the team will plan on getting 20 players by the end of January.
Final question, any update from the Toyota Arena?
Jeff states that the team has the full support of the person running the arena and the city of Ontario to have games played at home. The hurdle is the governor’s restrictions to do so. Burum will do what he can to get clearance to at least play at home without fans for the sake of home-field advantage. Lastly, he hopes that everything would go back to normal by March and hope to see fans at the games.
It might be odd to have an opinion about announcements that are just sharing ideas and important dates, but the takeaway here is to compare the new ownership with the old one. Bernie Lilavois, who left the Fury this year after starting the team and running it for seven years, still had some staff members who stayed when Bernie decided to move on, like the host of yesterday’s zoom meeting as well as the new owner Jeff Burum. When introducing Jeff, the host’s tone was optimistic and grateful for a new vision for the team and community as well as a settle joke that Jeff wouldn’t make millions off the team. This level of optimism was also evident in one of the Stryking Fury podcast interviews with player Israel Sesay feeling hopeful for the team’s future and direction now. These instances gave me the suspicion that the organization members under Bernie felt that a change was needed. Even Jeff, who worked closely with Bernie, mentioned in the state of the Fury meeting that the roster last season had too much talent and egos that coach Jimmy Nordberg had to handle it in the locker room. This might be caused by having a big-name former USMNT player Jermaine Jones who has a reputation of being an authoritative figure and wouldn’t take opposing judgment lightly. Since he is no longer in the squad, the enthusiasm of Jeff Burum about the current and building roster made him sound more optimistic about this new direction.
Although these speculations are only on first impressions and limited knowledge of what happens behind the scenes of the Fury, this direction that the IE team is going to seems to be getting a better reach and trying to convince the people that they are a professional operation. In contrast, the team under Bernie had a different operation and vision. Like other outdoor soccer teams in the area, staff (including owners) do more than just what their title is, and Bernie is one example of that. He would sometimes play, coach, and run the team as an owner, which is not uncommon in the soccer world, but that stage of any soccer team is what I would call maintenance. If your team’s higher-ups have more than one role to play, the team won’t grow and based on my impression of what Sesay and the host of the zoom meeting said, I think they would say the same. Credit to where credit is due, Bernie did the hard work for keeping a professional team in the IE, and if it weren’t for that, the team would disappear. However, if he would have given more time with the team, the growth would remain stagnant.
This new leadership, just based on the few changes outside of the pitch so far and the ideas Jeff plans on doing, looks as if the Fury will move to the next level, which would be to convince the public of the professionalism of the indoor soccer team. Jeff had inherited a good staff and didn’t have the battle to stay relevant to the Inland Empire but expand the brand and frame the Fury into the publics’ conscience. Bernie’s hard work of laying the foundation was done, and now Jeff has the task of building walls and roof.