Expanding the Map: Denton Diablos - Playoff Bound
The first time I sat down with Damon Gochneaur, I was taken aback by his seemingly endless supply of energy. Everything the man said was laced with excitement and passion. Though we were talking over the phone, I could imagine this bearded man bouncing around a room, excitedly answering questions about his soccer club. He’s everything you could hope for in a league owner, someone who actually cares about the results and is willing do whatever it takes to win. Now 12 matches later, the playoffs beginning tomorrow, I again sat down with Damon to discuss the inaugural season of his club, The Denton Diablos.
What was your biggest win of the season?
“Probably our first road trip of the season, down to Laredo. 2-1 win at Laredo, on the road. Our third game of the season. It really stamped everyone in the conference - “Oh shit, they’re serious! They might be ok.” We had lost to Fort Worth 3-2. We had beat Dallas City 2-1. We felt like were going to be competitive but we really didn’t know. Then the game after that, 4-0 win over Midland. Both of those gave us the feeling that there was no reason for us to be fearful of anyone in our conference. Even against Fort Worth.”
If you could describe your season in one word, what would it be?
“There’s not a superlative good enough. It wasn’t perfect, but it exceeded every expectation, every single statistical category - from fan participation and support, ticket sales, merchandise sales, on-field product, quality of the pitch, quality of the gameday experience, online stream and broadcast, our staff, our graphics. I’m hesitant to find a place where I wasn’t really proud of the effort.”
So lot’s of positives there, what was your biggest disappointment of your first season?
“That we didn’t win the final game against Midland and clinch the conference championship and home field throughout the playoffs, if I’m honest. The rest of the disappointment is on things that experience and quality of gameday stuff that I wanted and didn’t get to. I’ll be the first one to say that our handling of merchandise sales online versus at the game, jersey sales, was kind of a cluster at times.
“So launching a soccer team is one thing, but launching an e-commerce store and a pop-up shop that deals with inventory that comes and go and you don’t have immediate control over was more than I anticipated. We learned a lot from that process. The way that we’ve gotten merch out, the way we filled orders, disappointed me.
“I had really high hopes and expectations around gameday experience - what we were going to do for fans, the way it was all going to come together - and for a lot of different reasons, we didn’t hit all those marks. Fans were happy, other teams were happy, our own players were happy, but there were times I wanted and expected more of our organization and we didn’t get to it.“
Playoffs kick off tomorrow, against Fort Worth Vaqueros. What are your expectations of the match tomorrow?
“It’s going to be a tough game. It’s the only team in the conference that has beaten us both times, the only team in the conference where we feel we have something to prove. There’s a chip on our shoulder. We know Ft. Worth is an extremely veteran team, they’re very experienced. They have some real pros on their side, guys who have played the game at a high level and continue to do so. We know we’re in for an absolute dogfight tomorrow. We’ll have to bring our best game.
“In a lot of ways, we feel like we’ve beaten ourselves in both matches against Vaqueros. We had some mistakes that could have been prevented. So we’re going to have put together one of our best performances to have any success tomorrow.
“BUUUUTTTTTT… my expectations is always that we’re going to win.”
If you don’t win tomorrow are you still satisfied with your first season?
I’m NEVER SATISFIED unless we lift the cup, I’ll say it. You do not reach the level you want, if you do not set your goals extremely high and hold yourself accountable. Nothing I’m going to say here is any different than what the guys feel in the locker room. We’re two wins away from clinching a berth in the 2020 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and we do not take that opportunity lightly. So yes, we’re extremely proud and excited by our first regular season we put together, however, that 9-3 record is forgotten if we go out and don’t have the success we expect to have. We earned a number 2 see and the onus is on us to go out and uphold that. Chad and I, the whole team, we had goals from the beginning: realistic goals and bucket list goals. Our realistic goal was to qualify for the playoffs - 1 or 4 [seed], it didn’t matter, just get into the playoffs. Now we can start to chase a bucket list goal.
“I’m the guy who’s always looking way ahead. I was watching the Heartland Conference Semi-Finals, knowing we’re going to play the winner of that once we go and beat Ft. Worth tomorrow, then Midland (if they win). We’ll beat them in Midland again, because we’ve already done that once already. And then we’ll go to Tulsa and beat Tulsa on the road. And then we’ll go to Miami or wherever else for the Regional Final. Then we’ll figure out the rest of it.
“I’ll say this, there’s not going to be a go fund me. Wherever we go, whatever steps we have, we are absolutely positioned, poised, and ready to capitalize on it. We’ll keep marching down the path all the way to the end. I’m ready to see the Cosmos, averaging 4 point something goals a game. I want to see that, it’s interesting. There’s only four teams that average - we’re the third or fourth highest scoring team in the league, averaging 3.4 or 3.6 goals per game. We’re not afraid of anybody. We want to see what’s next. Let’s keep climbing.
“Would we be disappointed [if we lose]? Sure. Would we be depressed about it? Probably not. At the end of the day, give me a couple of weeks and a few brewskis and I’ll be extremely proud. I will apologize for absolutely nothing. We’re excited but, at the same time, it all quickly changes and the good vibes go away if we don’t capitalize on the opportunity in front of us.”
You’ve been pretty dominant in your first season in the league.
“Put it this way, our goal differential was higher than goal scored by every other team in our conference. That’s insane! Most people can’t even fathom what that means. We played 12 games and it’s not like we just barely beat them. We’d win by five goals. It’s kind of nutty. That’s the deal. If we show up, score two, there’s a good chance we’ll score four. If we don’t score one, there’s a good chance we won’t score any.”
Obviously the playoffs are a big deal, but looking forward to next season, do you have any plans right now?
“100%. We have not made the community investment that I wanted to. I really wanted my guys everywhere and anywhere and we didn’t get there, for a lot of different reasons. So yeah, things are going to happen next year. Youth soccer clinics, either totally free or for the higher age groups, they’ll have to pay something, that’s going to be on the agenda. We’re going to do camps. We’ll work with the Denton Soccer Association. That’s a 100% an agenda item.”
Denton Diablos take on Ft. Worth Vaqueros Thursday night at UNT Soccer Stadium