Interview by Mike Woitalla
Southern California club South Bay Force had its application to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy rejected, but Director of Coaching Todd Saldana still found a way for his players to play at the highest level of boys soccer in the USA thanks to a partnership with Pateadores. It led to Saldana coaching the U-18s to the Development Academy national championship in 2011. Now the South Bay Force has partnered with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
SOCCER AMERICA: How did the Pateadores partnership come about?
TODD SALDANA: We have a club that’s not in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy or ECNL. But we’re pretty strong. We had a really exceptional group of kids but when we applied to the Academy we could not get in.
The Pateadores [an Academy club] contacted me about forming a partnership. We had a very, very strong group. They were willing to let me bring the whole group in. Our 16s and 18s became their Academy teams. I coached the older group and our other coach assisted with the 16s.
It ended up working out really well. We were only with them for two years, but my fantasy, which came true, was we could show the quality we had so either Chivas USA or the Galaxy would be interested in us as a club -- to start partnering with someone local.
SA: So now the South Bay Force works the Los Angeles Galaxy …
TODD SALDANA: After we won the national championship, the Galaxy approached us and asked us to partner with them. …
We were driving to Orange County, 45 minutes, three nights a week, to get the kids to train down there [at Pateadores], because that was an Academy requirement. With the Galaxy, they’re at the Home Depot Center [in Carson], and that’s our neighborhood.
It’s a chance for our kids to play in the Academy program.
We figured we can either have a partnership and be a part of it, and have some say in it, or watch some of the players leave on their own and find Academy programs. Now at least we’re a part of the process.
It was a matter of either being a part of the process or trying to fight against – as people say, “Keep ‘our’ players at our club.” I have a hard time being able to justify that when there’s a higher level and they’re being seen by U.S. Soccer weekly. They’re part of an MLS team, they’re pro-tracked kids. They can get seen by a pro club. And I’d have a hard not helping our kids do that.
SA: How does the partnership work?
TODD SALDANA: We do what we normally do as a club, developing players to U-18. Our strongest players have the opportunity to play for the Galaxy’s Development Academy teams.
And since the Galaxy added younger teams, 14s, 13s and 12s – our strongest play in those teams also.
SOCCER AMERICA: With about 40 percent of your club’s players coming from lower-income homes, does the partnership help alleviate some of the financial burden?
TODD SALDANA: In some ways. Because if these kids make the Galaxy team, they don’t have to pay anymore.
But it’s still a challenge. We do all kinds of fundraisers. We do offer financial aid. It’s a never-ending battle to fund all the top players who want to play for us. It is one of our biggest challenges. It’s also part of the reason for the partnership with the LA Galaxy.
(Editor’s note: The Los Angeles Galaxy signed Jose Villarreal, a member of Saldana’s 2011 Academy title-winning team to a homegrown contract last December. The Galaxy signed 18-year-old South Bay Force alum Oscar Sorto to a homegrown contract for the 2013 season and is also considering Gyasi Zardes, a Force alum who has starred for three years at CSU Bakersfield. Villarreal, Sorto and Force alum Javan Torre are on the current U-20 national team roster.)