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December 23, 2009 > Gold Pride move to Hayward

Gold Pride move to Hayward

By Giovanni Albanese Jr.
Photos By courtesy of FC Gold Pride

It was a year of catching up for FC Gold Pride in the inaugural Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) season of 2009. While all other organizations were established years in advance, fully prepared to hit the ground running, FC Gold Pride came along late, and scrambled to put things together.

Going into year two, FC Gold Pride will finally have a place they can call home: Hayward, in "the epicenter of our fan base," according to FC Gold Pride Majority Owner Nancy NeSmith.

Cal State East Bay's (CSUEB) Pioneer Stadium will be the site of home games for 2010 and beyond for the Pride, who signed a two-year deal with the school (along with a mutual option for a three-year extension). And in addition to home games at CSUEB, all Pride facilities will be in Hayward.

"When we signed up with Santa Clara, we didn't have permanent locker space or a training facility," said NeSmith about FC Gold Pride's previous home at Santa Clara University. "CSUEB is offering a partnership with all the facilities, including the ability to tailgate, which Santa Clara did not.

"Fans love the game, and they thought the soccer was great," NeSmith continued. "But they wanted more of an all-day event. CSUEB will enable us to do that."

FC Gold Pride was established in August, 2008. Santa Clara University signed a short-term deal to have the team play its home games at Buck Shaw Stadium. But Gold Pride front office facilities were located in Sunnyvale, while the training facility was at San Jose State University.

In addition to scattered locations, Pride shared Buck Shaw with the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer (MLS), forcing them to play on Sunday afternoons.

Now at CSUEB, the Gold Pride will be able to have a cohesive unit from the players to the front office. Gold Pride General Manager Ilisa Kessler is looking forward to the change. "Before, our organization was too separate," said Kessler. "This gives us a true home-field advantage, and a sense of cohesiveness between the players and staff."

"Everything is more convenient now," added Kessler. "We wanted to get rid of all the distractions and concentrate on training, competing and winning."

Last year, Gold Pride, the team finished with a 4-10-6 record, totaling 18 points and a last-place finish in the seven-team WPS. (WPS has added two teams - Atlanta Beat and Philadelphia Independence - to bring the league to nine franchises.)

For CSUEB, it marks their second big change in 2009; the athletic department moved to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II in the fall. Previously, athletic competition was mixed between NCAA Div III and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

Because of this change, CSUEB needed an upgrade and began remodeling Pioneer Stadium. A year ago, when FC Gold Pride was pursuing home venues, CSEB wasn't up to WPS standards.

Remodeling includes "a more intimate setting" according to NeSmith, with 5,000 seating capacity all on one sideline. At Buck Shaw Stadium, seats were arranged on both sidelines and one end line, exceeding 10,000 in capacity.

Pioneer Stadium will be ready for use on May 15, 2010. In the interim, FC Gold Pride will play home matches at Castro Valley High School Athletic Stadium, including the April 17 home opener vs. reigning champion Sky Blue FC (New York/New Jersey).

"We knew [CSUEB] was the right place, and it was the right timing," said Kessler. "They already started renovations, which was another benefit, as well as other things they could provide [lockers, on-field facilities and tailgating] which was exciting for us." CSUEB's parking lot area will allow fans to tailgate.

"There were a few restrictions at Santa Clara, with tailgating one of them," Kessler continued. "We don't want fans to come and just watch soccer. We want them to have the whole experience. Part of that is tailgating."

Excitement extends beyond Gold Pride with this partnership. CSUEB and the City of Hayward are ecstatic with the deal.

"Having professional women's soccer on our campus in the East Bay is positive for Hayward, our university, our soccer programs and athletics in general," said Director of Athletics at CSUEB Debby De Angelis. "Exposure to these great women for our teams and our community is a 'win-win' situation."

"The City of Hayward has a long history of being a community graced with significant athletic programs at our universities, colleges, secondary schools and youth athletic leagues," said city of Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney. "Having the opportunity to be the home to one of nine national Women's Professional Soccer franchises is most encouraging and exciting at this time."

CSUEB Associate Vice President of Enterprise Operations Christopher Brown was integral in getting this deal, which took six months of negotiations, completed.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for our campus and the surrounding community for Cal State University East Bay to be the new home for FC Gold Pride," said Brown. "The partnership will not only bring additional resources to the campus, but will also provide opportunities for our athletic department and athletes, as well as solid family entertainment for our students, faculty, staff and community."

On the field, CSUEB men's soccer coach Andrew Cumbo feels that being close to world class athletes on a regular basis could help mold the young minds of his team, and many clubs in the East Bay.

"You can learn something every time you watch soccer," said Cumbo. "These training sessions and matches will have a positive effect on our players and all youth players in the Bay Area who come to support FC Gold Pride and the WPS.

"There is a very rich tradition of soccer for both genders in the Bay Area," Cumbo continued. "This is a great way to promote the game and I couldn't be happier that our outstanding university has partnered with FCGP."

Gold Pride will also partner with local girls clubs in the East Bay. Last year, they partnered with four local clubs; this year, they're hoping for more. On Thursday, Dec. 17, the team and Castro Valley Youth Soccer extended its partnership another year through 2010.

Pride remains in discussions with the cities of Castro Valley and Hayward to determine what else they can bring to each community. "We need to reach more fans and engage more people," said Kessler. "And that's what we hope this brings."

NeSmith agrees wholeheartedly with that sentiment. "We thank (Santa Clara University); they were very helpful and showed us the ropes, but now we have our own home."

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