San Diego Sockers stars Aaron Susi (L) and Kraig Chiles (R) pose with the Ron Newman Cup in the newly renovated Players Lounge at the Valley View Casino Center
Indoor Soccer News: San Diego Sockers Announce a Return to Their Roots at the San Diego Sports Arena, now Valley View Casino Center
Some press conferences inspire curiosity, others a sense of anticipation. When the San Diego Sockers announced a press conference at the Valley View Casino Center (formerly the San Diego Sports Arena) there was neither curiosity nor anticipation as to the subject of the announcement. For over a decade the Sports Arena was the home of the ten-time indoor champion Sockers of the 1980s, so what else would they be announcing there? What there was, though, was a sense of both excitement and satisfaction to know that San Diego’s greatest sports franchise would be returning home where they belong.
The move back to the Valley View Casino Center was not without some challenges, as a number of points had to be hashed out between the Sockers and the Center management. But now the ink is dry on the contract and it can be officially announced that the San Diego Sockers will play the 2012-2013 PASL season in the same arena that saw ten previous titles.
Valley View Casino Center CEO and executive vice president Ernie Hahn made the official announcement at the press conference, asking a gathering of reporters and Sockers players and staff, “Are you ready for some soccer?”
|Valley View Casino Center CEO and exectutive vice president Ernie Hahn at the San Diego Sockers press conference
Hahn went on to talk about the history that both the Center and the Sockers have in San Diego, and how exciting it will be to have the two back together. “This building has an incredible history in sports and entertainment,” he pointed out. “We’re really excited to have the Sockers back.
After taking time to thank both the media and especially his front office staff, John “Coach” Kentera, the Sockers General Manager, talked about the process that went into bringing the team back to the Center. He recalled a meeting at the end of the last season with the team owners and how every one of them said, “no doubt about it, let’s do it.” After that it was a matter of working with Hahn and the Center management to hammer out the best deal for all involved.
“We’re extremely excited about being back here,” Kentera said. “This is where people remember the legendary Sockers teams playing, and this is where we want to be.”
For the past three years the Sockers have played at the Del Mar Arena at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. While the facility served its purpose, and provided a good venue as the Sockers returned to action, it was not without a few shortcomings. Dedicated Sockers fans of the past three years knew that extra warm clothing would be needed as the wind whipped off the ocean and blew through the open ends. And few in attendance will forget the night during the 2010-2011 season when a storm literally blew into the facility, knocking over vendors’ tents and soaking one end of the field. Those days are gone.
“I feel like we’ve just moved up two notches,” said co-owner David Pike, discussing the differences between the two facilities and the growth the organization has seen. “Del Mar has been really good to us, but this is, we feel, going to the next level. Overall we feel like we’ve graduated, coming back here. It’s pretty exciting from where we started four years ago.”
|San Diego Sockers general manager John "Coach" Kentera at the team's press conference announcing their return to the Valley View Casino Center (formerly the San Diego Sports Arena)
“It’s good for the Sockers to be back home,” said Sockers’ announcer and marketing director Joe Tutino. “This is the Sockers’ home, and we were hoping that we would be back here some day. Now it’s a reality, and now the next thing is to make it what our fans remember. That’s our next goal and we hope to accomplish that soon.”
Being back at the Valley View Casino Center will benefit both sides, as the facility now has a steady tenant and the Sockers have a recognizable location. As Hahn pointed out, it will also help the team increase the draw from San Diego’s East County and South County, two areas that have always been supportive of soccer. It will also help the team with promotional events and special benefits for season ticket holders and sponsors.
One point that both Hahn and Sockers co-owner and head coach Phil Salvagio agreed on was the role that Kentera played in the process. “John Kentera has put a lot of work into this and he’s made this happen,” said Salvagio. “He’s a humble guy, but he’s the guy behind it. He did a good job on it.”
“It’s been a work in progress over the last year and a half with Coach [Kentera] and I,” said Hahn. “He came to me early on when he came to work with the Sockers and it’s been his vision from the get-go, so I really give Coach most of the credit. We sat down and we addressed what needed to be addressed from a standpoint of a deal that would work for both entities in order to get them back here, and that’s exactly what we did. I give Coach that credit and I give Phil and the rest of the owners credit for seeing that and understanding the big-picture vision of what we want to try to do here with the Sockers.”
While Hahn and Kentera are justifiably proud of what has been accomplished, it is the players and fans who will ultimately get the most joy out of the return. Several members of the Sockers were on hand for the announcement and talked about their feelings later.
“I think it’s exciting,” said Anthony Medina. “I think it’s been in the back of our minds ever since we got involved with the Sockers, since Day One. I think Del Mar served its purpose, but this is the place we really wanted to be. So to come back here, not only for the players but for the fans and San Diego as a whole, it’s real exciting.
|Two-time PASL Coach of the Year Phil Salvagio (R) and Valley View Casino Center CEO Ernie Hahn react to a comment by John "Coach" Kentera at the press conference announcing the Sockers move for 2012-2013
“I’m really excited,” admitted a grinning Scott Martin. “I remember coming down to the games when I was younger. I actually got to come down and meet the players after the game. I have a picture with Phil [Salvagio] when I was ten years old. Coming back here is kind of full circle to me. The Sockers came back. We were up at Del Mar, but now we’re back at the Sports Arena where we all remember watching them play and winning. We just want to continue the winning ways. The pressure always kind of hangs above us to keep going what those guys started.
“It’s amazing to be here,” Eddie “Vaquero” Velez simply said. “The feeling is incredible.”
Even the ever-cool Salvagio admitted to feeling the excitement. “It’s an honor. The legends of the legends played here, and to be a part of this, I got goose bumps.”
The Sockers will now move forward with additional plans both on the field and off. Kentera announced that, through the middle of July, season ticket prices will remain the same as they were for Del Mar. Additionally, those who purchase season packets by the mid-July deadline will receive free parking for the season. Other moves will be announced as they are finalized.
But the most important news is the return to the place that was home to such legends as Juli Veee, Zoltan Toth, Brian Quinn and, of course, head coach Ron Newman. It will be added pressure for the team, but as Medina pointed out, it is good pressure.
“I think it’s a positive pressure,” Medina said, “because I think we’ve established the past three or four years that we want to continue the tradition that those guys, the previous generations of Sockers, left. To be back here and call this place home, I think it’s fitting for our team and the city and everyone involved.”
“People know the Sockers for 25+ years and they know them at the Sports Arena, now the Valley View Casino Center,” Hahn said. “It makes a lot of sense. People already have that in their minds. I’m very excited to help them. It doesn’t hurt to have a team that has won 37 straight and has never lost at home. We want to make sure all San Diego knows that the Sockers are back.”
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