In the latest edition of the SoccerNation Sitdown, we were joined by the Co-Owner of the USL-PDL’s SoCal Surf. The San Diego based side has had a roller coaster ride of a first season, with four matches still to go in the side’s inaugural PDL campaign. Here’s what the Wisconsin native and lifelong student of the beautiful game had to say.
SoccerNation: Jason Gerlach, thanks for joining us.
Jason Gerlach (SoCal Surf): Thanks for having me. It’s always good to chat about Surf and about the growth of soccer in Southern California.
SoccerNation: Well, from your view, how has the first season for SoCal Surf gone thus far?
Jason Gerlach (SoCal Surf): Given all the change that came with our partnership with San Diego Surf, our move from the NPSL to the USL’s PDL, and our overall rebranding, we’re quite pleased with how the first season has unfolded. We gathered a great group of veteran and young players who have given us everything they have all season long and been competitive in most every game they’ve played, notwithstanding a very compact schedule, some long road trips, and all the other challenges posed by the “minor-league soccer” experience.
Our partnership with Surf has delivered exactly what we hoped it would – consistent top-flight coaching and training for our players and a strong association with a top-tier youth development program, a program that should produce outstanding SoCal Surf players for years to come.
SoccerNation: What have been your overall thoughts on the PDL experience?
Jason Gerlach (SoCal Surf): The USL’s Premier Development League has been a fantastic business partner from day one and has done a great job helping us showcase SoCal Surf and build our brand across their outstanding digital platform. They are incredibly well-organized, very communicative, and they’ve created a league that is attractive to some of the top young players in the U.S. which has made for very competitive games and an outstanding environment in which our players and coaches can develop and thrive. The PDL is a unique concept if you think about it, essentially a micro-season focused on providing “on the job training” to America’s top collegiate players, and they pull it off beautifully. We’re proud to be a part of it.
SoccerNation: On an off-field level, how have you and fellow owner Jason Barbato adapted to the new league?
Jason Gerlach (SoCal Surf): There definitely had to be some adjustments to the PDL after playing in the NPSL last year but I think we’ve embraced the change and in large part built out a glide path to future success. The most notable adjustment has been with respect to our roster. Given the PDL’s required emphasis on players aged 23 and under, we had to recruit a large number of new players and turn over the team quite a bit in the months leading up to the season. Working with our outstanding Surf coaching staff, we had to make some tough decisions but we think the product on the field this year has been quite good overall and given that we’ve lingered in the top half of the table despite our “expansion team” status, it’s hard to argue with our first year results.
We’ve been competitive in almost every game, beaten some quality teams both at home and on the road, and have created a soccer development atmosphere that we think will be very attractive to top college players next season and for many seasons beyond. On the business side, because PDL runs such a strong and organized approach, the adaptation on our part has been fairly easy. Moreover, for the most part (with the exception of the narrowness of the pitch), we’re quite pleased with the move to the beautiful Army & Navy Academy facility in Carlsbad which has created the kind of intimate, urban soccer atmosphere we were hoping for this season’s home matches.
SoccerNation: Back on the pitch, who have been some of the standout players for Surf this season, from your view?
Jason Gerlach (SoCal Surf): Any discussion of top players has to start with our veteran Captain, Nelson Pizarro. Before his unfortunate knee injury, he was playing brilliant soccer and was a league leader in goals and shots attempted. Beyond that, he was a great team leader and did a fantastic job sharing his wisdom and MLS experience with our younger players. We’ve missed him a ton these last few games but you can still feel him out there in spirit as the team has carried on courageously without him.
Eli Galbraith-Knapp, another veteran, was also playing very good soccer for us until his injury. Like Nelson, he led by example on the field and off and played as hard as anyone every minute of every game. He was very inspiring to watch. And finally, while his playing time has been limited, Esteban Reyes has made the most of his opportunities and scored two clutch, game-winning goals for us when we needed them most.
In terms of our collegiate players, there have been many bright spots. Adam Vargas was just fantastic in the Fresno win and as the season has progressed, he has become a an increasingly potent play maker who looks to make things happen for himself and his teammates with frantic activity all over the field.
Adam Allmaras has been a revelation between the pipes having made 4 or 5 saves that I still can’t believe he made. His decision-making has been excellent and his leadership in back strong and he’s made clear to the world why he’s been so successful at SDSU and why he has a bright future ahead of him in pro soccer. We love what we’ve seen from Andrew Stalboerger and Kieran Geldenhuys as well. Both have shown the ability to play very tough, hard-nosed soccer that has kept us in almost every single game we’ve played.
All in all, we’re incredibly proud of our entire roster and every man who has logged time on the training pitch and played game minutes this year. The team has had a strong, selfless camaraderie all season and have earned the respect of our fans and all affiliated with SoCal Surf during this inaugural PDL season. We offer heartfelt thanks to every single player who played any role whatsoever this season for their effort and contributions.
SoccerNation: Tell us a little about your relationship with Surf Head Coach, Cody Worden, and your thoughts on his coaching style.
Jason Gerlach (SoCal Surf): In my view, Cody Worden, as well as Evan Fuhs and Sergio Palafox have thrived, doing all we’ve asked and more to build and prepare this team for its inaugural PDL season. Every positive thing I’ve seen them do at the youth level for Surf Soccer Club is being replicated at the PDL level. They are incredibly passionate, positive and constructive and are giving our players everything they have every time they coach them. Watching the team train or play a match with Cody and his assistants at the helm makes me want to turn back the clock 20 years, put on a uniform, and head out onto the field and compete.
SoccerNation: What are the goals for the rest of this PDL season for Surf, both on the field and as an organization?
Jason Gerlach (SoCal Surf): Our biggest goal is obviously to finish the season strong on the pitch and hopefully, to start scoring some goals to complement the other positive aspects of our team’s game.
There’s a small chance that we can sneak into the final playoff spot but even if we don’t, we want to be competitive and put the PDL on notice that SoCal Surf will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
We also want to make sure our U-23 players get as much as they can from their final few weeks of time with us and take back to their college programs with greater skill, more knowledge, and more experience than they came to us with. One of the key measures of SoCal Surf’s success will be how well our U-23 players perform after they’ve played for us. In other words, do they emerge as leading players for their college teams? Do they help their college teams achieve next level success, however that might be measured? Do they come back to the PDL with us next year and make an even bigger mark? And finally, do they ultimately climb the pro soccer hierarchy and play in the USL, the MLS, or even as professionals in Europe or elsewhere outside of the U.S. at some point? The more successful our alumni are, the more successful we’ll feel as an organization.
Off the field, we want to continue the upward trend we’ve seen in attendance and online interest in SoCal Surf and let all of San Diego County know that going forward, there will be high-quality, fan-friendly soccer to support in the form of the SoCal Surf, regardless of how the rest of San Diego’s pro soccer process sorts itself out. We will continue to broadcast our games and present a nice menu of digital media that showcases our organization, our players, our coaches, and the fun and excitement that come with being part of the SoCal Surf experience.
SoccerNation: What do you see as some of the longer term goals for Surf?
Jason Gerlach (SoCal Surf): On the field, we want to win lots of games and win trophies, nothing less. In doing so, we want to bring to SoCal Surf the best possible college talent each year and do all we can to provide that talent with an unforgettable experience in which they develop as players, as people and as leaders.
Off the field, we want to create a compelling and accessible fan experience, continue to increase our attendance numbers and our digital media growth, and do all we can to establish SoCal Surf as a respected and well-supported San Diego County sports franchise that makes a positive contribution to our great community.
SoccerNation: Thanks again for joining us Jason. Any last words for the reader?
Jason Gerlach: Absolutely. Thank you to everyone who has supported SoCal Surf in any way this season. Every time you show up at our game, post a comment on social media, or proudly place our logo sticker on your car, it means the world to SoCal Surf’s ownership group, its staff, its coaches, its sponsors, and its players. We appreciate all of you our there who have taken notice of us and look forward to bringing you winning, high quality soccer and a great fan experience for years to come. Please spread the word about SoCal Surf far and wide!
(You can watch all of SoCal Surf’s USL-PDL matches LIVE on The SoCal Surf Network, powered by Sunrise Capital. Surf will be on the road for the next three matches and will be home to conclude the USL-PDL regular season on Sunday 7/16.)