Earlier this year, I reached out to City Legends FC and asked if I could interview the club owner and soon enough he agreed for a phone interview. I wanted to interview the team from Perris because I needed some UPSL content and I was generally curious about them. They had one good year in the UPSL and then they went to the SoCal Premier and I lost track of them. Thankfully after the interview I learned that they have been doing some big plans for the program and their future would take a turn that no one would expect. Here is the interview.
What is your soccer story, what made you get into the sport?
It started because my dad played ever since I was a kid. I started playing at four, got into the leagues and clubs. I started playing in Temecula with Hawks, which later become Southwest Soccer Club, and then that got taken over by Arsenal. I ended up in the Arsenal academies and then made my way through college. Then I played UPSL for a bit, and then a little bit overseas, but not a very long time. When I came back, I saw many potentials players in Perris that I grew up playing and seeing these guys’ talent go to waste because it’s such a small town. Many people don’t come and recruit here. College scouts don’t come to the small city. They usually go to the more significant LA, OC, or San Diego areas. So we just wanted to create something to put Perris soccer on the map, and then we came to the UPSL, and that’s why the team was formed.
Have you personally lived in the IE all your life? How do you like it here?
I grew up here. I’m from Perris. I was born in Orange County, came to Perris around age 10 or 11. I ran into some great soccer players and a lot of talent. The local leagues are insane for top talent, and a lot of these guys finish high school, and that’s the end of your career. A lot of people don’t attend college.
So when I went to college, I saw the people we were playing with, and I was like I played better talent back home. It’s just we don’t get scouted because it’s such a small city, you know? I went to Citrus Hill high school, and it was a brand new school, down the street from King (MLK High school), and King was getting all the recruiting. It crazy because you had way better talent a mile away. It was just a Perris district, so they didn’t even come into the area.
Where did you play overseas?
I played U-15 with Atlas in Mexico. I played there, and then I went into U-21 in Queretaro, Mexico. After that, I went to play in the second division of Guatemala for about eight months.
What made you decide to start a team? What role do you play and what are your responsibilities?
As I said, it’s the talent and opening the doors to scouting. I want to take pride (in my community) and try to get a couple of my guys from my original team into college, so that’s my goal. I want to get these guys to the next level. Some don’t make it, maybe because they don’t have the grades, credits, or college knowledge. After all, many people don’t know that there are great colleges and many different college soccer options. I like to use that (my team) to build them. I got guys into colleges in the NAIA and NCAA Division two.
The UPSL is a great league, there’s a lot of competition. Many college players play there, and my role as owner is to get players looking to get into college. I try to get in contact with the schools that they want to attend. We’re trying to get highlight tapes put together and schedule training with these colleges so they could take a look at the players.
Why did you guys started a team with the UPSL and why in Perris?
We joined the UPSL because, as I said, when I came back, I started playing in the UPSL. And I remember it being a great league. I stopped playing and ran into some younger guys’ in local Sunday leagues. I was like, there are some young kids, and they’re outstanding. Then I got the itch to start a team with the UPSL, so I contacted the league and found out what was needed. I asked, what do we need? What are the requirements?
Well, I grew up in Perris. That’s the reason why I wanted to start in Perris.
I knew the area well, knew the fields and high schools. I knew some of the coaches for the primary high schools. Like I knew the head coach for Citrus, the head coach for Perris high school, and Orange Vista, the new high school out there. So I knew already I had a solid foundation.
I used to play with guys my age that is now coaching high school. So it was really easy to get players from each high school to come out there and get their shot with us. It’s nice to handpick the players. In my time, once players finished high school, if they weren’t going off to college, their career is over. That’s the reason why I’m in Perris, and I want to help the town grow and put them on the map in any way I can positively.
In your first year in 2018, you guys were undefeated in the UPSL D2 and won promotion to UPSL D1, talk about that journey. Did you expect those results? What are some player(s) that stood out and why did they stand out?
We were always optimistic. I don’t think anyone looks to go into a season undefeated, especially with that level of competition. Still, we’re just taking it one day at a time, trying to compete. We knew we had the talent to make a run for the championship. We have always talked about that since the beginning. Our goal was to be top three and make a name for ourselves and gain respect as a team. Many players knew each other, we had the chemistry, and we were able to get through a good preseason. We competed in the SoCal Premier. They run a U-23 league. So we were able to put a solid preseason in there that led right into the UPSL. We were already up and running. We had great game fitness and just took off running.
Omar Caballero was our captain. He was a reliable right back that we could use anywhere, even at center back. A great player who was composed and just a great natural leader overall and gained a lot of respect from the players. So it was easy picking him for team captain, and he was able to run the team and keep everything even, including keeping all the players adjusted.
Another guy, a younger guy, was Kevin Moreira. He started playing with us as a left mid, and we transitioned him into a striker. I’m not sure if Kevin took top scorer or if not, but he was a top three, for sure. We ended up getting him into Vanguard University. He’s just amazing and a great player.
At some point, you guys didn’t return to the UPSL, why is that the case? Do you guys plan on returning to the league?
We plan on it, but we lost our base of players. A lot of the guys I was talking about, Kevin and other players, went to college. When the fall season came around, we lost many of our players, and we started trying to bring in new players, and we lost that chemistry. We lost that commitment. We were short on players. We were going to away games with 11, 12, sometimes even ten players. Another significant hurdle for us, our conference is spread out. Most teams are in Orange County or LA. These players are semi-pro and don’t get paid, so it’s rough. They work and have to make a living. So asking them not to work to come to practice or the game is not easy.
Our home games were around seven pm, six pm, so the players could work in the morning. But if it’s an away game, then you have to be leaving Perris around two pm. By the time we get to the fields around 4 or 5 P.M., we can get a solid warm-up before the game. So it was a lot of stress on us being so far. So we would love to return to the UPSL if we can get a conference in the IE area because I know San Diego got a San Diego division. So that would be great. There are six, maybe seven teams now out of the IE. So it would be interesting if the UPSL would be open to bringing an IE Division. That way, our commute time would cut in half or more because most IE teams are within 30 minutes.
So we joined the SoCal Premier League, which in my opinion, is the same level of quality as the UPSL. Don’t get me wrong; some outstanding teams play in the UPSL and the SoCal Premier. It’s just a lot of people don’t know about it because it’s more local. It’s not nationwide like UPSL who has a bigger spotlight.
Do you guys plan on staying in the SoCal Premier in the long run?
We’re affiliating with Ontario Fury. So we’re going to be working as their reserve team in the indoor leagues. The MASL will start a MASL Division 3
pending the league approval, the MASL still has to approve it. But as far as the affiliation with Fury, that’s pretty much set in stone. Now we’re good verbally, and everything is okay.
So is this league outdoor or indoor?
This is an indoor league. We’ll be running as an indoor team, but we will be keeping an outdoor team. Not sure if we’re going to be competing in the UPSL or the SoCal Premier. It all depends on the budget and where we stand.
Has your team got hit hard financially during COVID and or other sides of running the team? Is it stressful trying to do something now due to the lockdown?
It’s been rough financially. We get a lot of our money from tournaments or open tryouts. You see, we can’t fundraise or anything of that sort due to COVID. We haven’t been able to do anything, So we’ve been on standby, waiting on fields, but we haven’t done anything. We have just been trying to think of a way, get us on the field or something. So that’s why we reached out to Ontario. And I believe this merger is going to help us spark the next step of our growth.
What your team plans going forward now and post COVID?
In a perfect world, we would love to run the MASL D3 team. That begins in April. So we would start there with our main squad and run either a UPSL or SoCal Prem team. So we have to sit down and see what league makes sense because the UPSL is either fall-spring season, and Socal Premier runs on an EPL calendar, which is in the fall to late March. So we would run two teams, one in the MASL and one in either UPSL or SoCal Prem, and we’ll have to focus on what league works best with our indoor team schedule.
Final question, what legacy do you or Legends FC want to leave the IE soccer community?
Make a winning legacy, a team that competes and is not taken lightly. We want to become a big name in the soccer world. There’s a lot of
big and respected names. In my era, growing up, everyone knew about the Orange County Blues. That was huge. Everyone wanted to play with the Blues. That was your local team; that was everyone’s goal.
So it would be great for us to become a team like that to become a desired team. Where players say, I wish I could play with City legends—either being indoor or outdoor, especially if we do that pathway with the Fury. It’s going to be an excellent pathway for younger players.
I love working with young talent. In our first season in 2018, we had three players: two were 16, the other 17, and they were starters, all three of them. We had a young squad, and our oldest guy was 25 at the time. This was great because, as I said, we could get a lot of players into college. That would be my legacy. I work with young guys, young players who want to get to that next level and mold them since I have played college.
Gabriel Esqueda, my assistant, played college as well. He’s been a great goalkeeper coach. He’s been there, done it. So I think our experience helps us know what’s expected from college coaches, which can help our players. We want to mold all these guys into the next step with the pathway to Ontario Fury. It would be amazing to see a 16-year-old play with us with the same vision and the same idea of soccer like the Fury because that’s our goal. That way, they can get looked at by Fury because it will be the same scheme. They’re going to know what’s expected for them, what’s needed to get in. And we can get some young guys out of Perris’s area into signing their first pro contract, that being indoor and then evolving from there.