Targeting the Number Nine: Episode 2 with Ron Gilmore (Cal United Strikers FC)
The No.9 in soccer traditionally has a job to do. Score goals and change the game. For NISA Nation’s first interview series, we will focus on the Number Nine – the game changers ahead of NISA’s debut. These are the game changers who have helped NISA to get up on its feet and made it possible for the players to play and represent communities across the NISA Nation.
In this series, NISA Nation readers will get responses to nine questions – and not a False Nine – to get a deeper insight into people who have brought NISA to life. Consistently, you will see a tremendous care for soccer and seeing it in communities.
Ron grew-up working in equipment, game day operations for the San Jose Earthquakes who played in the original North American Soccer League. He then moved on to work for the Golden State Warriors (NBA) throughout his collegiate years. Following college, Ron accepted a role in the Sports Information Department at Arizona State University. Gilmore later moved on to work in the private sector for nearly 20 years. During those 20 years, he held volunteer and part-time game day operations positions with US Soccer. Ron worked on the venue staff for the 1994 FIFA World Cup (Stanford University) and the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup (San Jose State University) and has worked to support over 30 additional Men’s and Women’s US National Team events and four CONCACAF Gold Cup competitions since 1985 (A role he continues to serve to this day). In 2011, he continued his career in soccer at Arizona Youth Soccer Association where he assisted with large youth state, regional, national and ODP tournaments. In March 2014, Arizona United Soccer Club was born and Ron joined their staff as Director of Operations where he managed one of the most successful operations staffs throughout the League. He has worked with the California United Strikers since 2017. Ron and his wife Meg have two children, Kaley & Korey.
- Ron, how did you get into professional soccer?
My hometown San Jose Earthquakes were born in 1974 when I was just 7 years old. My twin-brother Rob and I used to be taken to the Earthquakes training sessions to shag balls and help out however we could. That eventually led to spending every summer assisting the equipment manager and eventually led into a role on the Game Day Operations crew with the club.
- What is your favorite soccer memory?
There are SO many incredible memories. To be around a professional team as a kid was such a wonderful experience. Having said that, my best memory was when I was eleven years old and our club had George Best on our team. One day, a Nike rep delivered nice duffel bags to our Nike contracted players (which wasn’t many back then). As guys were changing after training, one of the players named Jimmy McAlister saw me staring at the cool Nike bags. He asked me, “do you want it?” Of course, I said yes! So I grabbed the bag and put it in the back area of the locker room at Spartan Stadium to take home later that day. No sooner did I do that when another player named Tony Powell started to yell, “Who took my %&$*ing bag!!!” McAlister gave me Powell’s bag! What McAlister didn’t know was that Best saw the entire thing. So he came up to me and said, “Tomorrow we get back at McAlister!”
The next day on the training field after the session ended, Best called McAlister over and said, “I’ll give you $100 if you can convert more PK’s against my pal Ron, best of 5!” McAlister of course said, deal! Best then made McAlister take all 5 kicks before I took one, claiming “The boy (me) is a little nervous.” Earthquakes GK Mike Hewitt managed to save 3 of the 5 McAlister kicks! Now it was my turn and I was shaking! I didn’t quite comprehend the entire situation. Just as I went to take the first shot, Hewitt said “Time out” and then lay down on the ground across the goal-line. I then kicked in 3 shots over the laying down GK to score 3 and beat McAlister 3-2! McAlister was irate to say the least! Best then told him, “That will teach you not to mess around with the “clubbies”. Best then reached into his sock, grabbed two $50 bills and gave one to me and one to Hewitt the GK. Not too many people can tell a story like that about one of the greatest footballers to ever play the game. I am truly blessed to have a memory like this!
- Who is your favorite player you’ve seen live?
This is a VERY tough question… Of course, I am biased towards my all-time favorite player, George Best. A close second would be Maradona. When he played for Napoli in the mid-1980’s, his team played an exhibition game in San Jose vs. Pumas UNAM. There were 30,000 fans in 24,000 seat Spartan Stadium in San Jose. The atmosphere to see this phenom play was off-the-charts electric and he put on a show unlike any other. But, I still give this nod to Best.
- What are you most excited about with the start of NISA?
Soccer in our country is at a true crossroads. Those influencing the game off-the-field are few, and they are locked into a corporate culture that is not truly benefitting the players. Two things that attracted me to NISA were that it was a brand-new league and member clubs could have influence on how it is managed. A voice if you will, to provide input to making NISA a strong and independent league with the dedication to truly developing players for the next level. I also am a fan of NISA following the FIFA Calendar. I know it will be tough with respect to weather for some clubs, but if we want to develop young players and move them on to bigger and better situations abroad, being on the FIFA Calendar will be a real benefit for them!
- Last fall you won a title in UPSL and it wasn’t uncommon to see Cal United Strikers put up a touchdown or more and win games by seven or eight (or more) goals. What kind of playing style can fans of the club expect in the upcoming fall season in NISA?
When you line-up to play our team, bring your track shoes! Our Head Coach Don Ebert likes to play a fast-paced/possession game and attack our opponents. I believe true soccer fans (ours or opponents) who watch us play will appreciate the style we play.
- With four California clubs in NISA’s first eight, is there a club in there that you think will be Cal United’s biggest rival after a couple of seasons?
It really is too soon to say just yet. We are pleased with the quality of clubs that have joined NISA and look forward to many more joining in the near future. With that said, we are very excited to play the Oakland Roots in the inaugural professional game for both teams. We have had the pleasure to meet many of their executives and we share the same passion for the game and for our respective communities as well! I’m sure this will be the first of many quality games against them.
- Is there a city or community you would personally like to see have an expansion club in NISA?
Rather than point out just one city or community, I would like to see the League grow into small/medium sized markets throughout the country. Cities where professional soccer has never existed or thrived. My personal goal in life is to give back to the game and to make soccer stronger and more viable throughout our entire country. There are so many communities who are overlooked by higher levels of professional soccer in our country. My hope is that NISA can fill the voids in these types of cities and become an asset within those communities.
- How much of an advantage do you think it is to start with a core group of players on your roster that have played together for a few seasons?
This is a HUGE advantage for our Club. We have had a core group together for a very long time, a pool of players if your will. We lost 8 players (mostly starters) to the USL Las Vegas Lights this past spring and it truly was next-man-up as we continued toward capturing the UPSL National Championship.
The other advantage we have is where we are located. I’ve often said that if Southern California was a country, it would qualify to play in the World Cup through CONCACAF. So, as we transfer players on to higher levels of professional soccer, we are blessed to have a tremendous talent pool in our community to replenish our roster moving forward.
- Soccer-twitter users know Cal United’s hashtag #homeofthedream. What is the dream for Cal United Strikers ahead of this first season in NISA?
Our goal as a club is to provide a platform for players who are professional level, but just haven’t had the right break with a club, or maybe suffered an injury when on trial with other professional clubs. Simply put, we have a roster full guys who just need another shot to show what they can do. We will provide these types of players with a platform to play professional games, get tape and hopefully attract the eye of scouts who may want to sign them away from our club. Many of the guys on our roster have played at the highest of levels. We want them to continue to chase their dream of returning and competing. Thus, #HomeOfTheDream is our motto and we plan to stick by it!