Sacramento Gold FC hopes to snag three points in another crucial showdown this weekend. Gold fans will get to see a brand new opponent for the first time, one that's been down on its luck, but would love nothing more than to upset the apple cart on Saturday. In the latest edition of "Know Your Opponent," learn more about the Golden Gate Conference newcomer, Napa Valley 1839.
The Golden Gate Conference has historically been one of the most skilled, competitive, and successful conferences in the entire National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). Current squads have reached four national championship games (with Sacramento Gold FC and the Sonoma County Sol winning in 2010 and 2009, respectively) and represented the West Region in the last four semifinals. When Real San Jose, one of the oldest clubs in the conference, left the NPSL for the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) this past offseason, it left a large hole. To fill it, the NPSL reached for the wine, specifically wine country: the Napa Valley.
Napa Valley 1839 was born in December of last year, the brainchild of a group looking to utilize the area's talent in food, culture, and soccer to make a formidable amateur force. That group is led by two local boys, Josh Goss and Arik Housley. Goss manages his wife's local dental practice, Brittany L. Goss D.O. Inc., while Housley is well-known in the local restaurant business, owning both Ranch Markets and Il Posto Trattoria. The ownership group is rounded off by a pair of sports entrepreneurs from the Dallas/Fort Worth area: Jonathan Collura, founder of 1836 Capital, LLC, and Michael Hitchcock, owner of Playbook Management International.
To lead the inaugural squad, the 1839 appointed Jesus Medina as its first ever head coach. There seemed to be no other choice as perfect for the role. Medina was born in Napa before growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico and gaining experience as a midfielder in several reserve leagues. His coaching resume is long and impressive, having taken the reigns at Pacific Union College, Justin-Siena High School, Vintage High School, and several NorCal Premier League youth teams, including Napa Valley Soccer Club, Davis Legacy, Solano Soccer Club, Diablo Valley, Napa Sport, and Napa United. He has also served as a director of coaching of North Bay Elite and Napa Sport Soccer.
Trying to showcase its brand while planting seeds for the future, the 1839 has partnered with Napa United. Club officials say they aim to not only help with volunteer work and getting people to games, but to bring hundreds of local youth players closer to the game by bringing higher levels of play to the valley. They've also headquartered themselves at Memorial Stadium, the biggest venue in the area and the home of the two biggest schools in town, Vintage and Napa High Schools. To help increase the atmosphere, the 1839 has reached out to RaeSet Asian Grill and Craft Brew, which serves as the official fan headquarters and pre/post-game meetup spot.
Their efforts have already begun to show great success. The club's first ever NPSL match (at home against CD Aguiluchos USA) drew 2,291 fans, an incredible number for a first year (or any year, for that matter) amateur club. The fervent support has led to the creation of the "Green Army," the only independent supporters group in the Golden Gate Conference. They've kept up the high attendance and vocal support to make Memorial Stadium into one of the more intimidating destinations for visiting clubs. With their first steps quickly turning into sprints, Napa is on track to become another local power in the NPSL.
(Photo by Don Lex/luckyduckimages.com)
Bryan Marin: The first ever captain of the 1839, Marin is an offensive force capable of scoring goals on whim, or setting up his own teammates with precision passing. Those skills were honed against some of the continent's best up-and-coming competition. Marin spent with with the youth teams of Chivas, Santos, and Cruz Azul before returning home. Among the club leaders in both goals and assists, Marin leads the three-headed monster of Napa's offense.
Francisco Mendoza: Making a name for his own, and with a flair for the dramatic, Mendoza has already etched himself into 1839 history and lore. The history came when he scored the club's first ever goal in NPSL competition, in the 10th minute against the Aguiluchos. The lore (and dramatic) was made last month, when Napa came back from down 2-0 to the Sonoma County Sol to snatch a draw, with Mendoza netting the tying goal in the 89th minute. An emerging threat, Mendoza is the second third of the monster.
Gabriel Borges: Perhaps flying under the radar without the name recognition of Marin of the headlines of Mendoza, Borges is nonetheless an extremely potent striker. Since starting the season slow, Borges has scored in three of Napa's last four games, and has scored against every opponent except for Sacramento. Trying to do so on the road won't be intimidating for Borges; he scored in the second minute on the road against Aguiluchos in April. Borges is the third and final piece of the monster on the attack.
(Photo by Don Lex/luckyduckimages.com)
2017 Season So Far:
Napa seems to have done everything right so far: the logo, uniforms, players, staff, venue, buzz, coverage, rivalries. The one thing that has yet to come is a win. With two-thirds of the season complete, the 1839 have a 0-4-4 record, and have alternated between losses and draws over its last five games. This isn't to say the newcomers haven't brought a good enough effort to do so. In fact, Napa has come oh so close to win number one, particularly on two occasions.
They nearly got it on their first ever road trip. Trailing 2-0 against the East Bay Stompers in April, the 1839 scored three straight goals, the last of which gave them the lead with just over 20 minutes remaining. However, Napa gave up a penalty kick with three minutes left in regulation, with the game ending in a 3-3 tie. Then, a month later, the 1839 had brought the Gold to its knees, leading 2-1 with less than 30 seconds of stoppage time remaining. But, Matt Wiesenfarth led one last charge, finding Roberto Mendoza, who leveled the count at 2-2 with the very last kick of the game. Don't let the winless record fool you; Napa is knocking on the door.
Saturday, June 10: Napa @ Sacramento, 7 p.m., Capital Christian HS
Three Things You (Probably) Didn't Know:
Memorial Stadium has always been the center of the Napa Valley sports scene, but its current firepower is relatively new. Originally built in 1951, the stadium become quite out of date by the time the new millennium rolled around. In 2006, voters passed Measure G, which allowed for a $13 million upgrade to the facility. The old stadium was completed in 2010 with a new capacity of 6,400, which was entirely filled by rowdy fans who watched Napa High's football squad top Vintage 28-3 in the annual Big Game. Just like on the old grounds, Memorial Stadium's field doesn't have a track around it, making it larger so it properly accommodate soccer.
Wine, obviously, is a large part of the culture and economy of the Napa Valley, The 1839 is no exception. The name comes from the year George C. Yount (the namesake of the town Yountville) first planted wine grapes in Napa Valley. The club's crest features both a wine bottle and a grape leaf pattern on a soccer ball. Wine is also important to Napa's head coach. In between all of those coaching gigs, Medina found time to make a living as a cellar master for Robert Mondavi Winery for 20 years. He currently works as an assistant winemaker for Mira Winery, which, in 2013, became the first American winery to successfully experiment with aging wine in the ocean.
Of course, Napa isn't the only California county capable of making good wine. Neighboring Sonoma County often fights with Napa for local supremacy. That (sometimes) friendly rivalry now has a new home: the pitch. Napa Valley 1839 and the Sonoma County Sol have formed what's been dubbed the "Wine Country Derby," with results that have already sparked drama. The two clubs have split their first two matchups, literally, with the last-minute 2-2 draw followed by a 1-1 tie two weeks ago. With the third leg expecting to offer the same excitement, the budding rivalry will likely grow even more. A rivalry with the Sol? Gold fans can relate.