Interview: California Football Federation
A couple of weeks ago, the California Football Federation followed me on my social media accounts leading me to ask myself, "what the hell is the California Football Federation?" I asked around and a few of my friends had heard of the fledgling organization but couldn't provide me with any concrete details on who they were and what they were trying to accomplish.
So like any responsible journalist stuck at home in the middle of a pandemic, I reached out and got a hold of them.
Last week I hopped on a 30 minute Zoom call with founder/president Sven Serrano, head coach Roberto Hernandez, head scout Diego Parada, and social media director Salvador Torres. Ahead of my interview, they released the following video on YouTube.
In the end I found that they are a recent start-up with high ambitions and interesting ideas. What follows is my conversation with the newly-formed CFF.
Question: I’ve watched the video you sent out about your intentions and have looked over your website. So how serious of a movement is this and what are your goals and aims?
Sven Serrano (founder/president): Our aim is to field a team, make it so this an ongoing thing. We’re already in this World Unity Football Alliance, but there’s the option to re-apply to CONIFA, a larger confederation of independent football associations that runs kind of an alternate World Cup, but that requires a little more membership requirements, but WUFA was pretty good about letting us in -- they’re mostly diaspora refugee teams as opposed to quasi national teams like CONIFA has. But beyond the team, which would really be great to have, we could be an alternate football association for California. As I said earlier, the slogan is “let’s pretend we’re Scotland.” We could run our own FA Open Cup, we could send statements back to the United States Soccer Federation on issues like promotion/relegation. There’s a lot of possibility given the fact that we have a lot of players here who are ignored by the US Soccer Federation, we have a lot of teams that would love to be involved I think. It could be an ongoing thing, we just have to get the word out and do some fundraising.
Roberto Hernandez (head coach): Just to add onto what Sven said, as you know we definitely have a lot of talent here in California who don’t always get the opportunity. We just want to create, to bridge that gap to be able to form a true California National Team and become a full football association. I think there’s a lot of things that we would like to see done better and then it’s just what we would like to do, help all soccer from the youth levels all the way to the professional level here in California.
Question: What have you guys done already and do you meet on a regular basis to work on your goals?
Serrano: How this started was I made California National Team shirts here in China back in 2017, 2018. The idea was to sell them around California because we didn’t have an American team to watch that year. We sold some but most of them are still in the warehouse in a friend’s garage out in Palmdale. From the shirt idea, I put up a Facebook page and then I learned about CONIFA and I said, “why not get a team?” So several gentlemen have joined me here so now we were up to the point where we were talking to WUFA and just on the cusp of everything if COVID would just get the fuck out of the way. Our plan is to have three training camps, tryout sessions, for Northern, Central, and Southern California in the spring and then take a team to this four-team round robin that WUFA will do in Dominguez Hills in the last week of June. The other three teams are Darfur United from the Sudan, Karen Football Association, who are a minority from Myanmar, Burma, and Kuskutan who are indigenous El Salvador. Two of the teams are based in LA and we’re probably going to be mostly Southern California/Inland Empire, but hopefully we’ll have a few players from San Diego or Northern California joining us. An actual team will appear in June and then after that hopefully we’re organized enough and viable enough and have a fundraising base to keep going and keep the team together and go to other competitions.
Hernandez: We do meet weekly, basically what we’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks is filling in the organizational chart, for example, Diego Parada is our head scout, our scouting department, followed by Salvador Torres who does our social media, he’s basically running all of the operations and then Sven is our president so we’re working on getting all the stuff on the administration side complete, we’re crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s. We wanted to have our first tryout here at the end of January, we were planning it, but COVID has given us more restrictions, especially here in California. We’re kind of playing that by ear. We’ve reached out to some teams, some players. We have some response from them but basically from here on out for the next few months it’s just getting the word out, getting in contact with as many players as we can, getting them to send in highlight videos because we can’t have a full tryout and then hopefully COVID moves on and like Sven said have a try out in SoCal, Central California, and NorCal, just so all the players don’t have to travel that much just for the tryouts. Then we’ll fill the national team from there and play in the WUFA mini tournament.
Diego Parada (head scout): Just to add onto what Roberto said, this is also getting a large interest from different coaches and technical staffs involved with the team, league, conferences, whatever sort of soccer organizations in California...for them to be familiar with what our goals and motivations are as the California Football Federation and to understand that really what we’re trying to do is have a larger understanding of the kinds of players who exist in California, all different age levels and all different groups: men’s, women’s, youth and other soccer programs that may exist within the state of California. To have them in some ways register with us or be on the radar for us or to let themselves be recognized by us so we can potentially pool what they know and bring them into our setup as the California Football Federation, so it’s not just players, but getting everyone on board with us in understanding what the mission is that we’re trying to push here.
Hernandez: One last thing, piggybacking off of Diego, is that our first goal is to field a men’s national team, but then we’re looking to field a women’s national team and then just like any other federation, we hope to have sub-categories, a U20, a U18, a U15, all the way down to just give California exposure so the kids that may not be on the radar for the US or Mexico or Argentina or Uruguay or wherever they’re from but they’re here as California residents...just giving them that experience, exposure of playing on the U15 national team of California, it will definitely give them a platform that they may not have.
Parada: It also promotes a football culture because if we have our own federation, if we have more control over how exactly we want football or soccer to be implemented and how we train and how we want to play, so it creates more of a unique culture within California where you have a state of 40 million people, but what we also have is just all these different ethnic backgrounds and that contributes into how we can play and how we want to play on the field. It’s a lot of stuff that we can work with.
Question: What are all of your backgrounds in the sport?
Serrano: I come from a fan background. I’ve been watching the World Cup since 1970 and I was a supporter for USA at France in 1998 and Japan and Korea in 2002. I also got to go to Estadio Azteca in 2009 to watch USA play Mexico there, so pretty much fan culture is where I’m at. I don’t have a playing or coaching background.
Parada: My experience within the soccer industry started in 2015 doing retail with the Earthquakes then becoming a street team ambassador with the Deltas. In 2017 I applied for an internship program with Sporting Club de Portugal in Lisbon and they accepted me and I was working with the academy department there with the scouts, so that was something that I did in 2017, 18, and 19 in the summers and then most recently I just graduated from UC Berkeley with a journalism minor. I saw what Sven was doing with California Football Federation and did an article on him and Richmond Sol, I’m based in Pinole which is close to Richmond and Richmond is a community that I’ve grown up in and around my entire life so I also threw them into that article and that kind of became its own opportunity there so I became a scout/observer/assistant coach for them for the past five months.
Salvador Torres (communications director): I grew up with soccer in my life since I was four and played AYSO up until high school where I stopped. Then in 2018, I was a big Galaxy fan, and I started this fan group in the Inland Empire, the place in Southern California where it snows. I made a podcast, shirts, stickers, everything, I made it really big but then I learned about lower division soccer, NPSL, UPSL within the region and there’s a lot of teams that I didn’t know about. One team that got me interested was the Riverside Coras (now Club Xolos USA U-23) because that was the only team that I knew where you could be an owner of the team so that’s what caught my interest. Long story short, I got involved with them...I just basically went to the stadium and had talked to the owner previously and he knew about my background with the Galaxy and how much of a social media person I was on all of the platforms and he kind of just gave me his phone during the game that I visited and told me to go live tweet during the game and do some social media work. I was just like, “excuse me? I don’t know you, you’re just giving me your phone?” And he did and I’ve just been a social media person ever since. I have no prior experience, I don’t like social media, but a lot of my experience was built because he just gave me his phone and off I went. And it’s not just social media. We all know that in the soccer world you’re more than just (one thing). Now, in Northern California, I’m one of the owners with San Francisco City, I’m also involved with a team called Himmarshee FC in Fort Lauderdale and I’m also focusing on my blog covering local teams within the area: NPSL, UPSL, indoor soccer, high school, college, etc...so that’s kind of my background.
Hernandez: So I’m from California and I moved back here at the start of 2020, kind of a weird year moving back. I played collegiate soccer, NAIA, Division II, Division I, JuCo level, essentially I transferred a lot while playing. I moved to Atlanta to play with a small pro team over there in what was called the American Soccer League, which has sense folded. Some of those clubs are a part of NISA now. I had a couple of pro tryouts here and there, but I eventually retired from playing competitively and have been coaching for the past seven years now. Coaching has been the same thing -- I’ve coached at the Division II and Division I levels, NAIA, and JuCo and I’ve been involved with youth soccer for a while. I used to live down in LA coaching down there. I’ve coached with the LAFC academy, I’m currently back here as a Director of Coaching for Albion SC Central Cal.
Question: Are you aware of any other associations like this for other states?
Hernandez: For states specifically, I think we’re one of the few but there is Cascadia, but as far as state-specific, I think that we’re the only one.
Serrano: There’s Hawaii too, I tried to contact them but I haven’t heard much from them. Cascadia is sort of interesting because it includes British Columbia so it’s a dual national thing. They actually have a team in CONIFA and have sent a team to the World Cup so they’re the best organized, but between Hawaii, Cascadia, and us, we’re the only three federations that have national intentions about us. It’s kind of nice to have them all on the Pacific Coast.
Question: If there are only really two others, what organizations are you looking to model after?
Serrano: Well again, like I said, let’s all pretend we’re Scotland. The United Kingdom does have those four independent federations within their actual country so we’re sort of saying, “well why can’t we do that too?” I’m a California Nationalist...I try to keep it kind of muted because not everyone is into that and there are varying degrees of it, but when I introduce the idea, I just want to make it clear that we’re not some sort of state all star team, this is a national team.
Hernandez: We’re modeling after every football association in the entire world, right? We don’t want to be known as a random independent football association, but a full fledged federation. Obviously we’re in the beginning of it but we want to be known as a football association. We’re here to develop California talent and if that helps the US National Team as well then that helps the US National Team.
Parada: When I got involved with the scouting aspect one of the things that I tried to incorporate as much as possible was just how the Portuguese Football Federation has their scouting platform set up on their website. You can literally just type in any player and they’ll pop up so we just want to create a database of players that’s accessible to anyone. That’s one thing that I keep in mind but ideally it’s really just to create a database of players and information that’s accessible to anyone and everyone in California if they want it.
Question: Obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen in the world in the next couple of months, but if everything goes well and you play in this tournament, what would the next steps for you guys look like?
Serrano: The next step would be to consider joining CONIFA. We had an application on the table in 2019 and we were assured by one of the members, a secretary living in Germany, that we’d be a shoo in and at least get associate membership, and we sort of got blocked by the head of Casciada, who really didn’t know who we were and didn’t think that this was a legitimate thing so he had a number of proxy votes and he voted us down so we lost by something like 135 votes to 127, which was really surprising. I’ve since talked to the guy and worked it out so on January 30th, CONIFA is meeting again online so we’re going to go talk to them and be an observer and say that we’re still here and still interested, but probably next year there is an opportunity if we’re in better shape to be in this World Unity Football Alliance and in CONIFA and that would maybe involve us going to an alternate World Cup some day. There are also lots of opportunities for friendlies. I’d love to play games with a Baja California team or anyone who would want to give us a shot. It all depends on what the coach and the team want to do.
Hernandez: So the next step is to field a men’s national team and then after that a women’s national team. We just want to make sure that we can complete one thing before taking on another. We definitely want to give women equal opportunity.
Serrano: So the idea is that this is going to be a bilingual project. We don’t have our translations up yet but ideally all of our documents will be in both English and Spanish.
Question: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Hernandez: Well I do want to mention that we shouldn’t be considered a threat to what others are already doing. I think that’s part of the problem with soccer in this country, that everyone considers others to be a threat to create a new league, a new development, something. It’s always about, “new, new, new” rather than, “can we help each other.” So we think that there’s a void in the sense of having a California National Team, but we definitely want to help existing organizations, we don’t want to become rivals with them. We’re trying to unify all of California together and do what’s best for Californian players.