Expanding the Map: Denton Diablos #2

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It’s been several months since we checked in with Denton co-owner Damon Gochneaur. While the man did take an extended vacation in Europe (no connection to the fire in Notre Dame), he hasn’t stopped his drive to organize the club and get ready for their opening match of the 2019 NPSL season. With that match just hours away at this point, we thought we’d look at where the club was at heading into their regular season schedule.

A Crazy Fun Rollercoaster Ride

Damon made an appearance on one of our Protagonist Podcasts - Lower League Soccer Show - and discussed many subject pertaining to the lower league universe, including NPSL Founders Cup, the upcoming NPSL classic season, and a bunch of other subjects, but one of the primary aspects of the interview was where Denton was in the process of being ready for the year. The first big focus, of course, was the roster. “We’ve signed 31 players to our player pool because it’s such a high number of games, so many things happen (injuries), and we want to give a lot of guys an opportunity - 26 of those players are from within 15 miles from the center of our town.” But being local doesn’t mean a drop in talent. “15 or 16 of those players are coming out of division one programs from around the southwest.”

Image courtesy of Denton Diablos

Image courtesy of Denton Diablos

When Damon talks about his roster, he’s always quick to jump to the stories beyond just the names on a piece of paper. Harris Partain, a 21 year-old midfielder, was one of the first club signings and comes with a strange connection to the owner. “I played for his dad, he was my club coach. My favorite coach in any sport ever - I would have ran through brick walls for that guy. And now, to see his son come play for my club, that’s super cool.” And its every player on the roster - name, story, name, story, name story. Sam Garza, a 29 year-old midfielder, played for Damon’s club and high school teams before moving on for a brief MLS career. He bounced around the USL before signing with the Diablos and Gochneaur expects him to “bring a ton of talent, experience, and excitement to our team.”

A Different Model

Hitchcock’s leadership has made the Vaqueros a force in North Texas.

Hitchcock’s leadership has made the Vaqueros a force in North Texas.

While other expansion sides have been built on the bones of existing academy structures or existing teams in other leagues, Denton has been built from scratch. When I asked Damon which clubs he looked to as examples to follow his response was no surprise. “I’d be an idiot if I said just one, because there’s so many good pieces in so many of the different puzzles. You have to respect what they’ve done in Chattanooga. Absolutely amazing up there. What they’ve done with their fans, how they’ve created an experience, created a culture and embraced a lot of things, not just on the field. Detroit City has done the same thing."

It makes sense to point to two of the most successful clubs in fan involvement when you’re an up and coming soccer club trying to establish a strong fan culture. Damon was quick to return back to the question later in the interview, focusing on the importance of his fellow owner, Michael Hitchcock and the Ft. Worth Vaqueros. “I met NPSL soccer at a Vaqueros match. I worked the numbers on the sideline. Essentially I made the decision there, that at some point I’d explore this more seriously and then I met Hitch [Hitchcock].”

Culmination of an Offseason

Talking to Gochneaur about the upcoming opener allows his infectious nervousness to invade your own mind, you can’t avoid it. He dances from subject to subject and admits that his approach to the club is mirrored in style, he’s involved in a little bit of everything. “I’ll admit I’m a nut job. I handle most aspects of our creative production - video, graphics. I’ve been heavily involved in our jersey design and production. I’ll be honest, I want the experience to match the vision.”

At this point, the everything is set. The venue is ready, the roster is signed, the jerseys are numbered - it’s time to play some soccer. He’s convinced this match will be packed and he’s hoping for a sellout - if the enthusiasm of his club’s fans match his own, that’s a real possibility. The Denton Diablos will play their first match tomorrow (at the time of this article) or as Damon repeatedly says in his booming, announcer-style voice “Saturday, Saturday, Saturdayyyyy!”

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- Dan Vaughn