The Sound and the Fury
By Nancy Powell
Move over Quakes and 66ers! Another lean and mean minor league wrecking machine has come to town, and they’re playing weekly games at Ontario’s Citizens Business Bank Arena. Meet the Ontario Fury, Bernie Lilavois’ latest entry into the Professional Arena Soccer League (PASL). Their logo (created by native IErs Matt Clark and Frank Bustos) consists of fiercely angry eyes whose stare blazes holes into the beholder, a firm representation of the area, the team and the passion. Emblazoned on its black and white pentagonal ridges of a soccer ball, it recalls the fury of an angry kung fu panda.
“There are powerful elements that the area is known for—the heat, the wind,” says Lilavois, co-owner, team president and head coach of the Fury. “It also speaks to the energy that is growing as the Inland Empire expands into the best small sports market in the nation. Fury fits in with what we’re trying to build our team’s core principles around. We want to bring passion, power and a sense of fury to everything our organization does.”
Lilavois had been eyeing the Inland Empire for a while. His former team, the Anaheim Bolt, had just suspended operations indefinitely after two seasons due to rising costs and low attendance. Developing a second pro-soccer team in an area where soccer was popular and which demonstrated enthusiastic support for sports franchises over the past four to five years, according to Lilavois, was a no-brainer. With the closing of the Bolts and the hunger of Ontario for professional soccer, the stars aligned once more and the Fury was born.
A More Fast-Paced Game
The game of soccer, whether played indoors or out, is basically the same. Players take the field, devise strategies to pass and receive the ball with the objective of scoring points with a goal. Players can also commit fouls and be penalized to the timeout box, putting the defensive team at a disadvantage with one less player for two minutes. This sets up the “power play” situation. Indoor soccer has the timeouts as well as the strategies and techniques teams use to construct points. The difference between the two occurs with the rules and the venue.
Arena soccer takes advantage of a hockey-sized rink with five to six players versus traditional soccer’s 11 that occupy the field at any one time. Another key difference is the boundaries. The ball must stay inside the lines to be considered “in-play” with traditional soccer. Arena soccer makes no such distinction; there are no lines, only a retaining wall, so there are no out-of-bounds calls. Balls that do sail over the walls are kicked-in versus thrown-in. Finally, savvy players can and do take advantage of the retaining walls’ unique properties, using it to fashion complicated plays and steal past defenders.
With fewer boundaries, fewer defenders, fewer referees as a result of the diminished field size and fewer minutes per half, the off-sides rules are virtually eliminated. This leaves players free to wait and construct scoring opportunities through long passes or to sneak forward offensively and thus leave a fellow teammate free to make a goal.
“It’s a high-scoring, physical, fast-action game that doesn’t end in ties,” explains Lilavois. “You keep playing until you get a winner.”
As a consequence, indoor soccer lends itself to more action and creativity than one would normally see from a traditional outdoor game. It would not be unusual to see an average score in the teens with arena soccer.
“If You Build It, They Will Come”
Lilavois’ main mission from the get-go had been to identify and recruit local players, free agents from the pool of talent circulating around the national indoor soccer circuit as well as major league soccer. Lilavois himself is a native Southern Californian, reared in the San Gabriel Valley and having gone to school and played pro soccer leagues across the Golden State his entire career. Lilavois realized the sell to play in the IE would be easy—the sunny weather and a community supportive of local sports teams would make an attractive target. Factor in the state-of-the-art arena and fans hungry for professional-level soccer, and the buzz was out.
Lilavois held open tryouts throughout the summer and settled on 45 players that he invited to his training camp, all of whom played high school or college-level soccer in the Inland Empire. He also managed to wrangle away a few former Galaxy players, collecting some free agent indoor players along the way. The roster he has assembled is a mix of talent—blue collar athletes who live and work in the IE and are passionate about the game, younger untried talent using the PASL as a stepping stone, as well as major league talent eager to hop aboard on something new and exciting.
According to Lilavois, one of the names to watch is veteran goalkeeper Sanaldo Carvalho, a Brazilian Major Indoor Soccer League player who has been ranked as one of the top two goalkeepers in the last 10 years who played for the California Cougars in 2007 with Lilavois as player-coach. Besides making incredible saves, Sanaldo is an offensive marvel, an all-around athlete with a great arm who Lilavois has no problem putting on the field.
Another player Lilavois cites as one to watch for is Luis Dias “Tiguinho,” another Brazilian whom Lilavois likens to the basketball equivalent of a point guard a la Magic Johnson, a set-up guy who dishes the ball to other teammates. “Very skillful and very creative on the ball, and definitely a guy who likes to play,” says Lilavois.
Lilavois also picked up 32-year old midfielder Majell Aterado. Lilavois first signed Aterado to the Cougars in 2009. Aterado has played a significant role in four PASL championship teams, scoring 49 goals in 56 games and notching 41 assists. Aterado spent the last three seasons as a member of the San Diego Sockers.
“He’s developed into a tremendous player. He’s got a lot of speed and has one of the hardest shots in the league,” says Lilavois.
Rounding out the roster is forward Tino Nunez, a Long Beach native and former MLS player with Real Salt Lake in the team’s 2009 MLS cup-winning campaign. He was released by the RSL in 2010, and since then, Nunez floated from the Pro League Rochester Rhinos to the NSC Minnesota Stars of the North American Soccer League and then the Baltimore Blast until his arrival back to Southern California as head coach of girl’s soccer team at Milliken High School. The chance to play closer to home was one opportunity that Nunez would never pass up, much to Lilavois’ pleasure.
“[He’s] very skillful, very physical and scores a lot of goals. That’s the object of the team, to score more goals than the other team,” says Lilavois. “He’s a guy that will score a lot of goals and have fans cheering.”
A Sound Track for the Taking: Remember the Name, “20% Skill, 80% Fear”
In the same way that the mascot came to represent the nature of the team, so too does Fort Minor’s “Remember the Name,” a bombastic rap melody that speaks to the energy and focused passion of Lilavois’ new team. It’s his hope that the Fury will make a notable impact in a very competitive Pacific Division that includes the San Diego Sockers, a team with the longest winning streak in the United States and who have won both the PASL-Pro Championship and US Open Cup of Arena Soccer in their first three seasons as a member of the PASL. Lilavois coached and played with many of their players, and he sees the Sockers as the powerhouse of the league.
“They’re the team to beat in our league,” says Lilavois. “They set the bar really high. They’ve won the championship the last four years in a row and they’re coming off an undefeated season . . . they’re the Yankees of our sport. They are the ones we really have to try to compete with.”
Also on Lilavois’ must-conquer list is the Las Vegas Legends, a talented team that narrowly lost to the Sockers in the semifinals last year and whom the coach views as close rivals. The Legends battle the Fury on home turf November 24 at the arena and in Las Vegas twice more in February. The Sockers roll into Citizens’ arena December 12 and again on January 19 before the rivalry ends for the season in San Diego on February 9.
It would be wishful thinking to see an expansion team march to the championships, much less get to the playoffs in its inaugural season. Lilavois doesn’t see this as impossibility, as long as his team competes and brings their game to the field every week.
“Like any other team, whether it’s an expansion team of a team like the Sockers, you want to win a championship. On the field, I want to win every game and win the championship and do that for many years to come in Ontario. More importantly, off the field we want to be number one in every other category: number one in the sponsorships, in community effort, raising as much money for the non-profit groups we’re affiliated with and outreach with as many schools as we can. Really, just being number one across the board. A lot of pro teams are all about winning championships, and that’s what I want to too. But overall, we want to be the number one team in our community and our sport.”
Coach Lilavois’ hard work has so far been positively received. While the seats have yet to fill and the rumble rise to an ear-deafening roar, one this is certain. This is not a team to be reckoned with; the Fury have passed their initial tests, prevailing in their pre-season matchup against the Tijuana Toros and narrowly inching past the rival Sidekicks 6 to 5 in the season opener. A championship may not be such an unrealistic goal if the team continues with its current momentum. Fury unleashed in the pursuit of excellence. The Inland Empire couldn’t ask for more.
The Ontario Fury play at the Citizens Business Bank Area, 4000 E. Ontario Center Pkwy., Ontario, (909) 244-5000; www.ontariofury.com. Tickets and schedule are available on the website. Single game tickets start at $10.