Catching up with Jordan Gardner
Welcome again to my weekly "Catching up with..." piece where I interview someone involved with soccer in the local community of soccer in a five-question Q & A session in order to better get to know them.
This week, I spoke to Burlingame Dragons FC president Jordan Gardner. Though it's a stretch to call the Bay Area-based Dragons "local," Gardner is from the Sacramento region, graduating from Davis High School in 2002.
The 32-year-old began his venture into the business world when he founded the start-up company Ticket Arsenal while still in college at UC San Diego. After graduating, he relocated the business to San Francisco before building an interest in the local amateur soccer community.
Teaming up with younger brother Andrew, Gardner helped San Francisco City FC qualify for their first-ever Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2015, where they controversially lost 2-1 to Cal FC in front of a preliminary round record crowd of 1,519. Andrew served as the coach for SF City, while Jordan was their general manager, and even suited up for a few games at outside back.
Shortly after the Open Cup loss, the Gardners moved onto Burlingame, where Jordan began his current role and Andrew was set to become the team's general manager. The younger Gardner has since left the club to join a start-up in Seattle, but Jordan Gardner remains with the Dragons.
Behind Gardner's leadership, the Dragons have been one of the best-supported Premier Development League (fourth division) squads in the country. Their home opener drew 4,000 fans, and through four games, Burlingame are averaging 2,523. That attendance currently ranks better than two NASL teams and a whopping 13 USL teams.
Last week, I wrote about Gardner for a feature in The Davis Enterprise, which you can read here. Gardner was kind enough to spare a few extra minutes on the phone with me this week, where we talked all things soccer. As always, the interview is edited for content and clarity.
Me: I ask this to everyone, but I think it's an important question: how did you fall in love with the sport of soccer?
Gardner: I fell in love with the sport growing up in Davis, playing AYSO. My dad pushed me into playing soccer when I was young. I really loved the game playing recreationally and then competitively and for Davis High School. I kind of re-discovered the game after college playing semi-professionally, mostly at SF City.
Me: You still own and operate Ticket Arsenal, but have made more of a shift towards working with the Dragons. When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in the world of soccer and why did you come to that decision?
Gardner: I think at my time with SF City, I kind of realized that there was this gap between people who are soccer people in the front offices of teams and there are business people. There weren't a ton of people who were kind of crossovers, who had experience playing the game, who knew the game, and also had a business or start-up background, so I kind of found a niche for myself. Obviously, that kind of intersection between soccer and business is something I'm really interested in whether it's sponsorships or attendance or marketing or all those kind of things related to soccer, I just kind of found interesting. That probably happened during my time at SF City.
Me: What is your favorite or most memorable moment as a soccer player, fan, administrator, etc...I guess what I'm asking is in general, what is your most memorable moment in soccer?
Gardner: I would have to say when we qualified for the U.S. Open Cup when I was with SF City. We played Stanislaus United Academica at San Francisco State. We won 3-0, I played in the game, I had a lot of family and friends at the game, it was kind of a culmination of a lot of work between me and my brother in terms of putting that team together and obviously I was playing in the game as well, so that was pretty rewarding. We had a pretty good crowd, the venue was beautiful. It was really a special day. I still have the trophy sitting in my man cave over here.
Me: That leads perfectly into my next question. I was at the California Clasico last weekend. It was a big game, 50,000 people. Starting at center back for the LA Galaxy was University of San Francisco alum Dave Romney. As you know, I was also in attendance for that Open Cup qualifier you spoke about, where you actually subbed on for Romney at left a few times in the game that for some reason had an unlimited substitutions rule. How does it feel that you actually replaced him in a qualifier two months before he signed a professional contract with LA Galaxy II? How weird is that?
Gardner: It's funny, that game Dave had a bunch of his friends from USF sitting behind the bench. The whole game, not anything against me, but they were just yelling for Dave to come in the game. They were like, "Put Dave on the field!" I always thought that was funny. Dave is a great kid. I didn't get to know him that well -- I only knew him for a couple months -- but he deserves everything that comes his way. He worked his ass off at USF, then LA Galaxy II, then LA Galaxy, so I'm really proud of everything he's gone through and the very small piece that we had to help him in his bath to becoming an MLS player.
Me: I usually ask a Sacramento Republic FC question to end the session, but you're not involved with Republic or really the Sacramento soccer community, so I'm going to cheat and ask you about your Dragons, and then about the Republic. Burlingame currently sit in second place, five points behind the Fresno Fuego, in the PDL's Central Pacific division with a 5-4-1 record. You have four regular season games left to play, including three at home and one just up the road in San Francisco. What is your prediction for the remainder of the Dragons season?
Gardner: I think we're really coming into our stride as we have most of our home games at the back end of our schedule. I think it's gonna be tough for us to catch Fresno -- they're having a really, really good year but we do play them once more. I would say that if I had to make a point blank guess, that we'll probably finish in second, which would mean qualifying for the playoffs which is a big accomplishment and obviously something we're going for. It will be pretty tough for us to win the division again with the position Fresno are in currently.
Me: And as far as the Republic, take this any way you want, what is your prediction for them -- it could be on the field, off the field, anything -- for the rest of 2016?
Gardner: All signs are pointing towards MLS accepting their expansion bid. I don't know anything more than anyone else does about that, but hopefully that comes to pass. I firmly believe that it's a matter of not if but when that announcement comes. Obviously everything that [Republic president and co-founder Warren Smith] and the rest of his staff are doing has been outstanding. From an on-the-field perspective, they're having a very good year. The USL is tough. There's a lot of new franchises, a lot of new players coming in. The Western Conference is up to 15 teams now. It's kind of exploded and I think the gap between Sac Republic and the rest of the league has narrowed. I watch LA Galaxy II on occasion and the Colorado Springs Switchbacks as well. These are really, really quality teams. Hopefully Sac will make a deep run in the playoffs again, but I think the USL championship might be difficult just because of the depth in the league right now.