Storm United’s passage to the UPSL Premier division has been a long time coming for the Californian team from the high desert. Since competing in the UPSL lower divisions since 2017, coach Michael Zamora has been there since the beginning with aspirations for the team (back then called High Desert FC) to move up the ranks and compete in the high levels of adult amateur soccer in southern California. For years, Storm United has been close to getting promoted; back in the 2019/2020 season when they missed automatic promotion by one point and last spring season falling in the semifinals of the promotional playoffs. However, the team’s mission is to be a shining beacon of soccer talent from the high desert.
During the offseason before the fall 2021 season, coach Michael Zamora was very confident that promotion was bound to happen sooner or later in a podcast interview. Compared to the previous spring season, the D1 SoCal East conference was reduced to 9 teams, including Los Banderlos, who withdrew from the league during the middle of the season due to leadership issues. This change left Storm United competing against eight other familiar foes from the spring season, along with free points from Los Banderlos forfeits. Many could argue that Storm could be the favorites to win promotion with these odds.
As the season kicked off, Storm United hit the ground running with a 5-1 win over Footballers Academy Development Program (FADP). Their consistency of not losing would continue for the rest of the ten-game season. With two more wins against fellow high desert rivals Desert Communities Soccer Club (DCSC) and Toros Neza USA, they would stay near the top of the table. As the mid-season approached, they faced conference leaders Lobos FC which ended in an uneventful 0-0 draw, which turned the tables to Storm’s favor as they would be 1st place for the rest of the season. Towards the end of the season, they faced 2nd place FADP and edged by with a 4-3 win, a moment which coach Zamora reflects vividly “There’s was never really a moment where we thought (promotion) was secured. But there was a moment of confidence that everything was in our hands and not in anyone else’s when we defeated FADP away from home. A game where we went 2-0 up and blew the lead. We found ourselves 3-2 down with nine minutes left to play and walked away with a 4-3 result, knowing nothing was going to stop us from getting that league title. FADP have always been a thorn in our side, they are an extremely classy and competitive side so we know once we overcame that obstacle nothing was going to stop us.”
The last match saw a dramatic end to who would place first for the automatic promotion race. Storm United split points with MAFO II, which ended their season with 22 pts. At the same time, 2nd place FADP was matched with Los Bandoleros, who forfeited all games at that point, but the lack of announcement from FADP on social media left coach Zamora and Storm United on edge. “Well, it was kind of an uneventful ending to us as the coaches as we had already known that Bandoleros had forfeited their last match against FADP, which would only guarantee a 2-0 win. We drew a very talented MAFO side the first game 1-1, and knew a draw would see us crowned champions. We of course didn’t tell the team this and told them only a win would get the job done, we were dominant in our final match against MAFO and should’ve walked away with a win but conceded the last minute of the game. The team was disappointed but was relieved once we informed them the actual truth that we were champions!” FADP also ended with 22 pts but had a GD of 13, while Storm had 18. Storm was officially promoted and were SoCal East champions.
Ecstatic and full of joy, coach Zamora and the rest of the Storm members celebrated their achievement, a moment they have wanted for a long time. “It definitely has been a long time coming, we are so grateful to say we got the job done, I always thought we deserved to be here, but I never would dare say we deserved it because although we always came agonizingly close we never got the job done until now. But we kept saying we did it the right way, we didn’t just pay our way into the next division, we earned it and can’t wait to show off our talent into the next division and continue to show why we are the best and no matter how many try to replicate our success they will always fail because we are and always have been the best the High Desert has to offer.” Not to mention, Storm United has achieved promotion with an entirely new group of players since the pandemic. With the merger of the youth club Apple Valley Storm, Zamora coached their youth 2002 squad and promoted nearly all the players to the first team. However, only three players have stuck with the team since 2017; Aaron Herrera, Efren Gomez, and Carlos Arroyo. Zamora said, “These guys get a special shout-out from me as a coach because when the going got tough they stuck with the team and were finally rewarded with the promotion they deserved.”
As the offseason continues for Storm United, now they must face a more challenging and competitive group of SoCal teams in the UPSL Premier division. Coach Zamora and the team are ready for the next stage of Storms’ journey. As mentioned in the IE Soccer podcast interview, Storm is ready to expand its soccer muscles into fielding multiple teams in multiple leagues. “Spring 2022 will allow us to fully take that next step into becoming the powerhouse we are meant to be. Plans of having 2 teams competing in the top division of semi-professional soccer are in the works and that will allow us to set the foundations to present multiple options not only for our current players on the team but for future players! Whether that be players from the many premier and gold level teams we have at Apple Valley Storm or the countless other players all over the High Desert. We are anticipating being a top level team in the division as well, proving why we aren’t just some young team that’s based in the middle of nowhere but we have ambitions to be one of the best teams in the state and even country, maybe even a team at the NISA level, which isn’t a dream that’s too far out of reach.”
As the struggles of any team going through promotion to a higher division, it is no different here in the States for teams to seek funding for the expenses of a top-tier division. From Michael Zamora: So currently, we have three fundraisers running! All proceeds will go to funding our team for the upcoming year of 2022. Our first is our GoFundMe, a very modest approach. We are simply asking anyone who can donate anything; it is greatly appreciated and will go directly to helping season fees, referee fees, uniform fees, etc. The following two are not only helping us but are helping two restaurants here in the High Desert! One is a Round Table fundraiser here in Apple Valley, California, on Highway-18, where they help us by donating 25% of all proceeds back to our team; you can dine-in, mobile order, or order over the phone. All you have to do is make sure you let them know you’re there to support Storm United FC! Make sure you follow the link and RSVP, so we know you’ll be there to help us out! The next is Panda Express, where you can enjoy delicious food from anywhere and order online! Just enter the code 906162 into the Fundraiser Code box during online checkout, and 28% of all proceeds go back to us!
Storm United is also hosting tryouts on January 7th and the 14th.