As the coronavirus pandemic continues, sports clubs across the country have little to celebrate. Temecula’s soccer club, Temecula FC, has not played a game since March, but a player in their youth academy is beginning to make a name for himself.
At 13-years-old, James Brown is a future professional athlete. A once nationally ranked snowboarder and a stellar hockey player took his talents to Temecula FC’s club team about a year and a half ago.
“You could tell right away,” Coach Ignacio Gachuzo said, speaking to Brown’s playing ability. “He is one of those kids who stands out when you watch a game.”
Brandon Jantz, Temecula FC youth director and owner of the National Premier Soccer League team, said Brown “ticks most of the boxes as a player, especially one that has time to develop.”
After a year of practicing, his coaches said Brown could reach a different level. Brown’s father Isaac Hanson said he realized his son’s potential when “other people started to notice what we noticed.”
Gachuzo and Jantz discussed some of the options Brown might have beyond club soccer with his family. It became clear that a tryout for Major League Soccer’s FC Cincinnati’s residency program could be a possibility. Jantz connected the family with Larry Sunderland, Cincinnati FC’s director of player development.
Jantz said, “Part of our philosophy is a pathway straight to the pros. James is a player we feel has potential.”
The residency program is a live-in soccer academy, where Brown’s days would revolve around soccer.
“You are living year around with the club, trying to develop into a full-time professional,” Jantz said.
Brown’s tryout will occur in late November, where he will train for the club, he said.
Throughout this process, Brown and Gachuzo have been in constant contact.
“We talk three or four times a week during practices and training sessions” the coach said. “I talk to his dad at least once a day to see how he is doing physically and emotionally, because he is still a kid.”
Hanson said he appreciates how both Jantz and Gachuzo have handled the entire process and how they run the club. “The first thing Brandon and Ignacio both said was we are not about the money, we are about the kids,” Hanson said.
As a player, Brown’s “control of the ball is unique,” Gachuzo said. Brown gained some experience playing with the semipro Temecula FC team.
“Over a year ago, we invited him to join the warmup of our NPSL team, working on his technical ability and ball work,” Jantz said.
Gachuzo praised his ability to raise the level of his teammates while on the field.
“When he comes in and plays the best that he can, it reflects well on the other players,” he said.
As much as Brown helped improve his team, his father said his son improved through the club as well.
“He developed in a way that he saw how to train and how to be a leader,” Hanson said.
Brown said the coaching staff has helped him improve as an overall player throughout his time at the Temecula club.
Although the upcoming tryout has been in discussion for a year, the COVID-19 pandemic stopped everything within the Temecula FC club. The entire youth program was shut down until July, and the organization was realistic about the fall season not happening, Jantz said. Through social distance protocols, the teams have had optional training up to four times a week.
“Right now is a rebuild of getting the kids back in and getting them to love the game again,” Jantz said.
Gachuzo kept in contact with Brown’s team over the break, maintaining a presence over the internet. Meeting three times a week, Gachuzo designed workouts for the team to complete.
“We maintain this commitment for the boys,” Gachuzo said. “We didn’t let this (COVID-19) stop us from progressing as individuals.”
As for Brown, he spent the pandemic-induced offseason being a teen. He spent a lot of time surfing as well as working for the family business, a palm tree nursery. Hanson built a soccer field in their backyard as well, letting Brown and his siblings train whenever they want.
The FC Cincinnati residency program “is a great opportunity for James,” Jantz said. As for Temecula FC, he said they try to send out at least one player a year to other teams beyond than their semipro NPSL team.
“We try to identify the best talent in Riverside County and develop them,” he said. “That is the whole purpose of this club.”
Joey Balleweg can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by emailing email@example.com.