Nestled into the heart of the Old Town Temecula marketplace is Brandon Jantz, owner of the only amateur club in Southern California with a team shop.
It’s a not-so-busy Thursday morning in early Fall – heart of Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Qualifying season – and Jantz is busy poring over his roster options for The Quails’ next game when the door chime jingles.
An older couple shuffles in from the creaky boardwalk and peers at the framed team jerseys adorning the wall of the entryway.
The shop has about 60 percent of its floor space dedicated to a Temecula FC-themed soccer store with all the other typical balls and gear for sale, too. The other 40 percent is for pressing the club’s jerseys, a training bench and a modest office with a desk and a monthly calendar tacked to the wall.
“Can I help you with anything,” Jantz says as he stands up to greet the couple.
“Oh, just looking around,” the older gentleman said.
“Are you soccer fans?” asks the store’s proprietor.
“We enjoy it. Megan Rapinoe’s father is a friend of ours, and our daughter grew up with her,” the visitor responds, before asking: “Did you know she has a twin sister?”
“Our daughter still is friends with her, the twin,” his wife says with aplomb, adding: “They still talk all the time.”
The pair pokes quietly around through some jerseys, scarves and stickers before politely thanking the owner and offering a brief but sincere, “Great store,” on their way out.
“Soccer gave us that connection,” Jantz chuckles. “This sport is bigger than any of us know.”
Talent Only Gets You So Far
Jantz admits that he went as far as his legs could carry him, challenging himself with non-league stops around England in the early 2000s before returning home physically scarred but forever emotionally connected to the game and what it can mean in smaller communities.
“It didn’t matter if you were going to Old Trafford, St. James Park or a smaller stadium like a non-league stadium, it just lights you up,” Jantz said.
The former midfielder played a couple of seasons in the now-defunct A-League with Orange County Zodiac and the Boston Bulldogs but saw his eventual future in coaching at the youth and amateur level.“When I got done and moved back I started coaching and I’m thinking, ‘Man, we have so much potential here.’” Jantz said. “Like, it’s massive potential just here in Temecula.”
Rebuffed in a number of attempts to install a more English-style philosophy at his first few youth coaching stops, Jantz made the decision to go all-in and create Temecula FC in 2013.
“I was basically told, ‘They’re great kids. They pay well. Just collect your paycheck and go home. Don’t try to fix anything. This is how we like it [and] make everybody happy so they return as customers,’” Jantz said. “I’m not the type of person that’s happy with that.”
The process toward creating a men’s team in Temecula was organic. And it began to grow into something real when the youth club was established.
“The other youth clubs wouldn’t allow their players to go to our games for fear we’d create a youth club of our own,” Jantz said. “It was what it was, so we started the youth club and started getting people to come out to the games. We went from 15 people to 300, and we were starting to be sustainable.”
Tough Times Require Tougher People
The team had a good thing going, with hundreds of supporters turning up regularly at Temecula’s Chaparral High School for league matches. That is, until the team’s lease was unexpectedly pulled following a bogus claim of holes in locker room walls and other destroyed property.
“It was totally unforeseen by us,” Jantz said. “To that point, we were running games and the club profitably. As long as we could host games we were profitable and all of a sudden we had to tell the NPSL [National Premier Soccer League] that we couldn’t host the rest of our games.”
Without time or means to contest the school district’s decision, the club spent thousands to cover travel expenses to finish out the league season – leading Jantz to reach out for donations.
“We had to pay field and ref fees at other team’s fields [to finish the season],” Jantz said. “Instead of making money we were losing thousands every single game and not knowing if we’re ever going to be able to come back.
“Fortunately, the soccer community backed us and we were able to get enough money to stay positive,” Jantz said.
In a stroke of good fortune, a school district custodial staff manager on hand for a Temecula FC match eventually set the record straight – that there never was any damage – and the team has since returned to hosting games at the high school.
“It’s the politics and dynamics of youth soccer at play,” Jantz said. “Some rival youth club had a connection to a decision-maker, and things got ugly there for a minute. It’s all good now, though.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was the next test, and it forced the club to take a hard look at both its financial and competitive structure.
Taking On a New Challenge
Temecula FC was the only U.S.-based amateur club to travel for a league kick-off in Mexico last season, playing a NISA Nation Southwest Region match against PAOK Tijuana FC on May 14.
“We like to take on new challenges,” Jantz said. “We want to play against higher-level teams and the NPSL was against it, didn’t want it [and] didn’t want to explore it.”
Temecula FC exited the NPSL and joined the Southwest Premier League (USASA) early in 2022, playing in the SWPL’s 10-match men’s spring season before moving into NISA Nation for the 2023 campaign.
A new head coach – Ignacio Gachuzo – has given the first team new confidence and a sense of purpose.
“Ignacio had built some very successful youth teams for us, and when the time came to look for a new head coach he came in and said ‘I want the first team job,’” Jantz said. “He’s like, ‘I can do it. I want it,’ and he’s done a fantastic job.
“He has them together and working well,” Jantz added.
There’s growing optimism around the club following the inaugural NISA Nation campaign. The team finished with an unbeaten 7-1-0 record, only narrowly missing out on the league title by goal-differential tie-breaker.
“I try to stay away from it and not touch anything,” Jantz said. “We’ve only lost two games in over a year and that comes down to the staff and the players.”
‘To Have That Passion in Them’
In Open Cup Qualifying, Temecula’s Third-Round win over local opponent Santa Monica Surf felt like a little slice of vindication following years of battles both on and off the youth fields.
“The toxic environment in youth soccer – and I know it’s the same all over in the U.S. – but the fact that we’ve grown and continue to grow just amazes me,” Jantz said.
The team previously rented another storefront that got more foot traffic but the lease ran out during the pandemic and Jantz, instead, picked up the current space.
Actually bigger than the old place, he keeps a barbeque outside and there’s enough seating for the team to watch all the matches on the big screen connected 24-7 to soccer programming.
He said the players like the new store more because, well, there’s more space to spread out. And it’s important to Jantz that the club has a brick-and-mortar home away from the pitch.
“We have the players’ photos on the wall and we want them around and to have a home forever,” he said. “We want them coming back in 20 years with their kids and telling them, ‘This is where I played.’”
Saturday’s Fourth (and Final) Round Open Cup Qualifier against Irvine Zeta FC, is another opportunity to make Temecula FC an even bigger name in the game. There’s a place in the Tournament Proper on the line. A win would mean a debut appearance for Temecula FC in the country’s historic Open Cup.
“When I look at the club now, we love the first team players to death but you’re also looking to the future and the youth players in the community, and making sure that they have something to look forward to like I saw in England,” Jantz said ahead of the decisive game on Sunday, November 19th.
“I want them to have that passion in them and know that they have that right here,” he added, surrounded by reminders of the good work he’s doing and the impact he’s making. “We’re trying to build the culture as big as we can, so everyone can feel and have a connection to what they’re seeing.”
Dennis Pope writes about local sports for the SoCal Newspaper Group and serves in a communications role for both NISA Nation and the Southwest Premier League. Follow him at @DennisPope on X/Twitter.