The story behind one of the High Deserts adult amateur teams is an interesting look into the soccer culture that transpires north of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains. Soccer, historically around the world, is more than a sport for fans who follow it. It is a social construct that is a platform of reflection of a town or community. This means that a soccer team is more than just 11 guys kicking a ball into a net vs. another 11 guys. The team becomes like a representative or ambassador of the city or region’s culture and attitudes, more than just a team logo or nickname.
The force behind a team identity usually comes from people’s actions and decisions relating to the club, and it is only till you speak to the people who make these decisions that will result in an outcome that becomes a team’s reputation. A good example is the Portland Trailblazers not picking Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft. That opportunity to make the Oregon team a household name was not taken and more people around the world will remember the Chicago bulls for years to come. Critical decisions, small or large, can change the trajectory of a team to a new level.
In another sense, decisions can start something new, a risk Fidel Gonzalez was willing to take. As one of the High Desert Elite director of soccer operations owners, Fidel shares how he got into soccer, the story of HDE, and a legacy he would like to leave for the High Desert soccer community.
Fidel’s soccer story started with his father getting him into local recreational leagues at a young age; he never played at a competitive youth club until 15 when he moved from California to Pennsylvania. He would then be scouted by a Haitian club coach and spent a brief time in the Pennsylvania youth leagues. After that period, he would come back to California and continue playing pick-up soccer in the Mexican leagues in East LA and elsewhere in southern California.
He would then run into English coach Trevor James, who now coaches Detriot City FC in NISA. Fidel would cross his path while the Englishman was a staff person with the LA Galaxy in the beginning stages of the MLS. Gonzalez would credit Trevor for teaching him a wealth of soccer knowledge, which helped the young Fidel play for Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. His playing career would end after two major injuries during his college days.
The team’s story started goes back to the SoCal rush team of the UPSL back in 2014. Fidel would offer insight for the program without being a member of the organization. After his time there, he would move on to High Desert Football Club, another UPSL team based in Hesperia. He mentions his involvement in the club was so successful that the program was on the verge of starting a women’s program, which unfortunately did not follow through since the USPL did not have a women’s division at the time.
His involvement with HDFC was to help the team on the commercial side with sponsors and tried to encourage the club to generate revenue. He would then approach the ownership group at Adelanto Stadium, interested in getting a NISA team to play at the minor league baseball stadium. Fidel thought this was an excellent addition to the Hesperia team to get to the next level. “The conversations broke down more or less,” Fidel says as HDFC’s views did not align with the ownership group of Adelanto Stadium. At this moment, Fidel decided to drop all things with HDFC and focused on his career and sick mother. High Desert FC allowed Fidel to pursue a professional team with the ownership group on his own.
Now part of the group that hopes to brings a professional soccer team to the High Desert, Fidel would suggest a more viable option with the NPSL. NISA, Fidel explains, would financially be a challenge in the long run. At last, the ownership group agreed to his suggestion, and now he becomes one of the four owners of High Desert Elite. Out of the four, he is the one with the most soccer experience.
It was a learning experience for Fidel as he faced the challenges of “high desert politics, either in politics, business, or soccer.” However, HDE’s preseason proved successful as they took care of teams from NISA, NPSL, and UPSL. Under coach Louis Luviano, one advantage Fidel noted about their players is that they have grit and creativity. Knowing about High Desert talent, Fidel explained that the difference between them and the other teams was the players are “over coached and joysticked.” He further explained that HD youth players, in general, are told exactly how to play. In that difference, Fidel noted, was their potential in the game: creativity.
Despite a promising preseason, HDE would lose their first game in the 2019 NPSL season and would end up with less than five wins in the southwest conference of 18 total games. “We feared failure. We feared failure in the face of pressure”. The silver lining of High Desert Elite’s first season as a club was having the most fan turnout in their conference, averaging 600-700 fans a game, with the most being over one thousand at Adelanto Stadium.
Fast forward to today, the young team is restructuring. One of the owners “skipped town,” as Fidel put it, and left the team. This news was something Fidel said he had anticipated. However, an intern looks to get on board after getting his master’s degree recently as a possible replacement. Fidel is hopeful for the future despite those challenges. He has many ideas ranging from starting a women’s team in the UPSL with a coach already in mind to take charge of the program to bring in foreign players to make the NPSL team more entertaining and making connections with local high school and colleges in the greater Inland Empire to bring in more interns.
When asked what kind of legacy Fidel or the High Desert Elite team would like to leave the High Desert soccer community, Fidel simply put “to love one another and do so while playing the greatest game on God’s green earth.”
Since that interview during New Year’s break of 2020/21, High Desert Elite has started the 2021 UPSL season with a tie to OCFC 3-3 last weekend and continues to operate their second squad while preparing for the upcoming NPSL season in May.