Tatu. Gordon Jago. Reunion Arena. Four championships. Green. Purple. Never Say Die. The Dallas Sidekicks legacy continues on December 2 when the team opens their 2018/19 season on the road against the Rio Grande Valley Barracudas.
The Sidekicks are back with new owners after last year’s hiatus season. When we last saw the Sidekicks, they were just finishing their second straight 7-13 season and lost 21-2 on the road to the Sonora Soles in their penultimate game.
Now, led by soccer industry veteran Michael Hitchcock, basketball executive Donnie Nelson, and returning General Manager/Head Coach Simon Bozas, the ownership group has the daunting task of re-establishing a team that was once competitive every year and one of the top draws in indoor soccer.
“When launching a new club, it’s industry standard to need an 18 month runway to create the brand, launch and establish the brand, engage the community, grow your database, build the front office team, and execute a business development campaign,” said Hitchcock. “With an iconic soccer brand like the Dallas Sidekicks, it can be done on a shorter runway. That said, it’s extremely important to be very strategic in respecting the club’s history while being innovative in running a smart, sustainable business operation. While there are unique challenges, it’s easier to re-launch a great brand like the Dallas Sidekicks and the response has been great! We’re excited for this season and building a new foundation for years to come.”
When the Sidekicks returned from their first hiatus, and made their Allen Event Center debut in 2012, the team enjoyed a great reception, but the honeymoon was short. The original ownership group, led by Ronnie Davis, got into financial trouble and was even sued by Tatu, the iconic player-turned-coach whose very existence was synonymous with the Sidekicks.
“One key to success for any professional sports club is strength of local ownership,” said Hitchcock. “The new Dallas Sidekicks’ ownership group is a strong, diverse ownership group that includes me, Donnie Nelson, Simon Bozas and many other local, successful business owners and leaders. We’re confident this ownership group puts the Sidekicks in a position to be successful.”
Reinvigorating the fan base and getting the word out that the Sidekicks are back, stable, and playing in Allen, will be paramount, as well as tapping into the growing soccer community.
“Without a doubt, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is one of the best soccer markets in the country where the sport is such an important part of our daily lives,” said Hitchcock. “Outdoor soccer complexes and indoor centers are continuing to be built throughout the Metroplex. Our key to success will be engaging the existing fan base, being innovative in our promotions and marketing to connect with new fans, becoming an integral part of the community, providing access to our players, and then making sure everyone has a great Sidekicks experience at the Allen Event Center.”
The Sidekicks have been building a front office staff and are still getting their feet under them. The team announced its return just over three months ago. “Ownership has made a major commitment to doing things right and that starts with a talented staff,” says Hitchcock. “We have a good front office team, we’ve built a customer-centric sales culture and look forward to hosting great events, starting with our pre-season game and Open House at the Allen Event Center where fans can attend the November 17th Sidekicks vs. San Diego game for FREE at 7:00pm. We want fans to purchase their season seats and actually sit in the seats for the pre-season game.”
Fans are likely holding their collective breath to see if Bozas and the Sidekicks learned anything from their past failures, especially considering how much their three Southwest Division rivals have improved. The Sidekicks, conversely, have the majority of their 2017/18 roster still intact, with most of their new players coming from lower outdoor leagues. The only significant roster move the team has made is signing former Kansas City Wizards star Jose Burciaga, Jr., who has been mostly off the grid since playing 12 games for the Colorado Rapids in 2008. He did manage to play one PASL-Pro game with the Texas Outlaws in 2009 and picked up a hat trick, which makes him the new Sidekick with the most professional indoor experience.
The Sidekicks core seemed talented enough to win more than seven games. Cameron Brown is a star player, but injuries have been ever-present in his career. In a relatively healthy stretch from 2014/15 to 2016/17 he had 73 goals and 40 assists in 57 games.
Then there’s defender Cody Ellis whose offensive game popped in 2015/16 (after scoring just 10 goals in his first three seasons combined, he lit the lamp 17 times that year) and VcMor Eligwe, the team’s breakout star of 2016/17. Fan favorite Ricardinho is back for a seventh season with the Sidekicks, but will turn 40 before the season ends. Juan Gamboa is an above-average goalkeeper, so the team is solid at key positions.
For his part, Brown, who is regaining his fitness after a third ACL tear early last year, describes the difficult last two seasons as a transitional period. “Everything needed to be changed because the direction we were heading as an organization was not the right path,” Brown says of the end of the Ronnie Davis era three years ago. “Situational moments in games killed us the last two seasons, how to play with a lead on the road, how to defend when playing back-to-back on the road, formation on man down situations.
“All that being said, this year, the Sidekicks will be good, maybe not the best, but we will be better,” Brown continued. “Three quarters of the team has been together now four-plus seasons, and above all everyone will be pushing for each other. We are becoming a family and this team is going to be very competitive for the next three seasons.”
Hitchcock is kind of a big deal in soccer. He spent over a decade in sales and management in MLS, winning several awards and, locally, is a former General Manager of FC Dallas. He founded Playbook Management International, which owns and operates several outdoor soccer teams, and once served as Commissioner of the National Premier Soccer League. While his career has mostly been spent outdoors, he has indoor roots as well.
“I grew up attending MISL games so the indoor game was a big reason why I fell in love with soccer,” Hitchcock says. “The Sidekicks have played a critical role in growing the game in Dallas-Fort Worth so all of us who work in the soccer business owe a great deal of gratitude to Gordon Jago, Tatu, Nick Stavrou and all the Sidekicks’ coaches, players, and executives.”
A stable Sidekicks team can serve as a beachhead for future MASL expansion. A number of Texas cities have been rumored to be on the league’s radar. “While I cannot comment on specific cities at this time, Texas is a great market for MASL,” said Hitchcock. “Texas offers plenty of world-class arenas that are the perfect size for MASL teams along with a massive soccer fan base. Not to mention the state is a country in size and attitude so we’d love to see MASL continue to grow in Texas and will play a leadership role in making that happen.”
Hitchcock and his partners have their work cut out for them, but he understands what’s at stake. “The game of soccer continues to grow on all levels and we think it’s important for the Sidekicks to return to its former glory on and off the field, while becoming an important member of the Dallas professional-sports landscape again.”