In the latest edition of the Soccer Nation Sitdown, Nate Abaurrea is joined by Daniel Gamba, the General Manager of the Southern California Sports Club, commonly referred to as So Cal SC. In addition to his role as GM, Gamba has assumed various other duties for the San Bernardino based club, from assistant coach to community ambassador.
In part two of the sitdown, (Find Part 1 here) Abaurrea and Gamba talk more about the club’s heavy emphasis on player development, and center in on the incredible story that is the San Bernardino Soccer Complex, a facility that has gone from wasteland to world class under the guidance of Gamba and others in the San Bernardino community. Abaurrea and Gamba briefly discuss “San Bernardino: Alive and Kicking”, the documentary about So Cal SC that was released by Rockerrazzi Filmz late in 2016.
We also get to know a little bit about the footballing background of Gamba, a native of Porto Alegre, Brazil, and a former youth teammate at Gremio of a certain world legend by the name of Ronaldinho.
Nate Abaurrea: Daniel, let’s talk about the San Bernardino Soccer Complex. Tell us a little bit about what that facility means to you, and what it means to your club.
Daniel Gamba: It means everything to me. It means everything to this club. We would not have started this project if we did not have a home. We always had a platform, but if you don’t have a place to implement your philosophies and really do what you are setting out to do, that platform means nothing. A lot of our time and energy has been with the complex. We want to develop top-notch soccer players and coaches. We need that place.
When we first saw it, and the poor condition it was in, we asked ourselves, “how quick can we turn this place around?” How can we do that as fast as possible so we are able to help develop players and coaches? Seeing how far it’s come makes me incredibly proud. I’d honestly say that 80-90% of our energy from this club has gone into that complex. More investment in a stadium, marketing, and other things that it takes to run a successful soccer team, those things will continue to grow. But it all starts with the San Bernardino Soccer Complex. Without the complex, there is no So Cal SC. There is nothing. In one word, I can tell you what that complex means to us: everything.
(Looking east, over the San Bernardino Soccer Complex)
Nate Abaurrea: There is a clear focus at So Cal SC on having soccer be a positive outlet for young men who may come from underprivileged backgrounds. That was illustrated quite a bit in the documentary about your club. How have the players responded to this mindset? Is it something that they are grasping?
Daniel Gamba: This is a very important topic. The players that are part of our club are definitely starting to see what we are trying to give them. Maybe that wasn’t as apparent last year, because it was the first official year of the club. It’s hard to build without a history, with people simply wondering what you are all about. Now people are seeing what we represent, what we are doing. I have had players in recent weeks and months talk to me and say things like “hey, if it wasn’t for this team, I’d be playing Sunday league” or “I wouldn’t have that belief that I can continue my career and try to make it as a professional”.
So many of these guys come from tough backgrounds, but they are proud of where they come from. That is a beautiful thing. They want to represent San Bernardino, their city. They want to continue their careers beyond just being high school stars. They want to play professional soccer and get signed to a professional contract, all while having pride for the club they represent right now.
(Bryan Guzman, [center], is a native of San Bernardino and one of So Cal SC’s brightest stars)
Nate Abaurrea: You spoke in the documentary about “changing perspective”. Expand on that a bit, changing the perspective of San Bernardino.
Daniel Gamba: One of the main questions we asked when we started this club, and one that we continue to ask everyday is “how can soccer change our perspective?” San Bernardino is known by so many for crime, drugs, a city government that is struggling, as well as the terrible tragic shootings that hit the city last Spring.
A grand goal of ours is to make people think of soccer when they think of San Bernardino, for the game of soccer and the love of soccer to be forever attached to this city.
I remember when we first took over the complex. We would book games and tournaments, and we would always have coaches or club directors be very opposed to coming. “I don’t want my kids playing there,” they’d say. “There is always fights in the games. It’s in a dangerous area. Its scary.”
A year later, and those very same clients are now complaining that their teams aren’t getting enough games at the complex. That is incredible. In one year, the perspective is substantially changing for our city, for our people, our kids, and its all through the game of soccer and that facility.
Nate Abaurrea: Let’s talk more about youth development, and the focus of So Cal SC on developing young players. There are select top-flight clubs around the world that preach the gospel of player development, the likes of Southampton in England and FC Dallas here in the states certainly coming to mind. Why is player development so important to you, and so important to So Cal SC?
Daniel Gamba: I think it’s because we see talent in the Inland Empire area of California. So many of them, they are what we call ‘rough diamonds’. They have incredible natural talent, but they haven’t been developed enough. Or maybe they have, and something just went wrong. For so long, the only way for most of the players in San Bernardino to pursue a professional career was to go to whatever connection they had in Mexico. Why is that? Why do the most talented guys in this area have to leave everything behind and go to Mexico, with no guarantee that they will make it all the way there? Why should they have to drop everything and go somewhere else, to another country?
I’m Brazilian and have many great connections with clubs in my homeland. People ask me all the time, “why don’t you just bring ten players from Brazil and win the NPSL?” Sure, we could do that, but I’m not in it for that. And there’s no guarantee that would work anyway. This league is stronger than that. What I want to do is help develop the talent of the Inland Empire. This is about local guys. This is about giving them opportunities. We have connections with big clubs, and we want to use those connections in the right ways.
The player development system is flawed in this country. It is basically from age 6 to age 18. As soon as you’re 18, you’re on your own. So what does a guy do at 18 who isn’t able to go to college, or who isn’t connected with an MLS club here in the states? Does he drop everything and go to Mexico? Or can he find a way to continue his development in his home area? Those are questions to which we want to provide answers. We want to allow these guys to park at home and continue their careers, and help them get to the next level.
(Gamba, second from right, alongside club owner Dave Elmore)
Nate Abaurrea: The documentary that was released late in 2016, “San Bernardino: Alive and Kicking”, was a fantastic production, and the film told an incredible story. I reviewed the documentary for Soccer Nation, and I encourage everyone to check it out. What did the film mean to you?
Daniel Gamba: Well, first off, I can’t take any credit for the production. Jared (Sagal) is an outstanding individual and an amazing filmmaker. Our kids play soccer together. That is how we met. One day we were talking, and he said “hey, why don’t we show people what you are trying to do with this club?” It was originally supposed to be a few 5-10 minute shorts. Then we kept meeting and we were like, wow, this could be something more. Then it turned into a full length documentary. It was really just about the club at first, but then it changed into a documentary about the city of San Bernardino and the role that the club plays in the growth of this community. I know Jared is working to get the documentary into some film festivals in the near future. That would be lovely. We want people to know about this story.
Nate Abaurrea: Daniel, I have to ask you about a certain clip from the documentary. It was a moment in the dressing room after a 3-2 defeat at home to Riverside Coras, early in the 2016 season. The clip is certainly NSFW, and featured you sending a wake up call of sorts to the So Cal SC players. How did you feel about that clip being seen by so many people, as it featured a type of interaction that is often kept in house?
Daniel Gamba: For me, there are no barriers. I am who I am. I have played this game and coached this game for my entire life, but I am a passionate soccer fan at heart. And I work hard to give opportunities. We work so hard at this club. The people around me put in endless hours of work to make this club a reality.
That scene from the film was something I spoke about with Jared quite a bit. We thought about taking that scene out of the documentary completely. We met a few times about it, and it was not easy. In the end, we felt it was right to tell the truest story possible. That was not fake. That happened. It needed to be in the film.
People sometimes need a wake up call. A few of our players arrived late to that game. That is obviously something the viewers didn’t see. The way we prepared for that game, it got me upset. Coras was short handed for that game. They did not have a full bench, and we had all seven substitutes. We were coming off the first Battalion game, when we were dominant and got nothing to show for it. Then to lose that game the way we did, I felt the guys needed a wake up call. Then is the same as now. We are doing something serious. We are serious about this project. If you’re content with playing Sunday league, and being one of those talented guys who trails off, then go play Sunday league. If you want to be a part of this club, and part of our mission, then wake up. They all needed a wake up call, and they all needed to realize that we were doing things properly, in a professional manner. That was the message. After that game was also right around the time when we really started rolling as a team. They knew what they needed to do.
When you’re behind the scenes, maybe you use some more vulgar language than some would like, but that was just me being me. All I ask from these guys is to see commitment. With every passing day, I see it more and more.
Nate Abaurrea: Tell us a little bit more about your personal soccer background and growing up in Brazil.
Daniel Gamba: I hail from the south of Brazil, in Porto Alegre. I played high level youth soccer in both Brazil and Argentina. My main time in Brazil was spent playing with Gremio, in Porto Alegre. I was born in 1981, so for a significant time in the youth ranks at Gremio, Ronaldinho was my teammate. His career obviously took a different turn than mine, as he went on to become one of the greatest players to ever step on a pitch.
After playing for Gremio, I played in Argentina briefly before I took advantage of a college offer in the United States. It was also about my education. I actually came to San Diego, to Alliance International University in Scripps Ranch. I came when I was 21, and played NAIA Soccer. I then graduated in 2006, and became obsessed with the management side of the game. Soccer is my life, and that has certainly gotten me in trouble with the wife a few times. This game is all I know, and I am very fortunate to work everyday entrenched in something I love. Every day for me is a blessing, and I owe so much to soccer.
(The opening of Porto Alegre’s stunning “Arena do Gremio” in 2012)
Nate Abaurrea: Going back to your upbringing, Porto Alegre is in Rio Grande Do Sul, the southern most state in Brazil. There exists a strange, almost ironic bond with Argentina and Uruguay in that area of Brazil, as you are closer to those rival nations than you are to the majority of your own country. What was that like?
Daniel Gamba: Porto Alegre and Rio Grande Do Sul are definitely a little different than most of Brazil. It’s a different climate, a different culture. I do feel that bond with Argentina, that Gaucho mentality. I feel a bond with Uruguay as well. There are some people from Porto Alegre who actually identify more with Argentina and Uruguay, because with the way Brazil was colonized and divided, our home area in many ways should be a a part of Argentina or Uruguay. What I love about where I come from is that we are not set in stone. We are so diverse in Porto Alegre. Nobody owns who we are or what we identify as, the same way nobody owns this game of soccer. The attitude is let’s fuse all of our favorite versions, and get the best of every culture. I think that’s also what we have the capability to do here in the states, to have that be what American soccer is. We are the most diverse country in the world. Let’s show it through our soccer.
(The close proximity of Porto Alegre to Uruguay and Argentina make it one of Brazil’s most unique cities)
Nate Abaurrea: What do you remember most about playing with Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, the young man who would later come to be known simply as Ronaldinho?
Daniel Gamba: I remember that from day one, he was in a class all his own. It was his father, Joao, who instilled in him a love for football, the same way he did for his older brother, Roberto. It was actually Roberto who was looked at as the future star. But Roberto struggled with injuries, and he realized that he should take it upon himself to look after his little brother, to be a role model and a second father. Joao died tragically when Ronaldinho was only eight years old. Roberto became his guide, and for his whole career, he served as Ronaldinho’s personal manager. It was clear in watching him throughout his legendary career that Ronaldinho never forgot where he came from, his humble beginnings in Porto Alegre, the tragedy of his father’s death, and the loyalty that all his siblings showed him. Despite all the hardships, Ronaldinho always played with a smile on his face, the same way Joao taught him. Everything he does is for his family.
(After signing for Gremio at the age of 7, Ronaldinho made his senior team debut in 1998 at the age of 18)
Nate Abaurrea: I think that transitions perfectly into the last question of this sitdown. Daniel, what do you love about the game of soccer?
Daniel Gamba: The first thing that always comes to mind when I think about soccer is one word: equality. It doesn’t matter what color you are, what religion you believe in, what your political background is, or whether you are rich or poor. We are all on the same field playing for one common goal. Soccer is a powerful tool. It makes lives better. I look at the recent tragedy with Chapecoense, how clubs from all over the world and people of all different backgrounds were united for one cause, showing support to the victims, their families, and the people of Chapeco. Soccer can unite us all. It is the world’s game, and we need unity in this world. We are blessed to have a game with the power to unify. We are blessed to have soccer.
(So Cal SC, changing the perspective of San Bernardino)