AJ Gelose fills us in on how Lasalle plans to approach promotion into D2
BDSL: Today we head up north with A.J. Gelose of Lasalle FC. Thanks for taking the time to talk. Last year you brought back Lasalle into the BDSL after a year off from the league. What prompted the return to come back?
LFC: First of all, thank you for asking me to be a part of the 2019 BDSL interview series. The first thing that prompted the comeback was my return to Buffalo, after two years in NJ for work. I came back in April of 2017, so starting a team for that was not possible. After passing off the reigns of Niagara FC, a team that I started at Sportsplex in 2001 when I moved away, I needed a new venture. I decided to revive LaSalle FC, the team my brother started after leaving Niagara with some other former members.
BDSL: The team saw good success last year and despite not making it to the D3 final you side finds yourself promoted to D2. Did that change your approach to the year at all? What’s your feeling on moving up a rung here on the ladder?
LFC: Our approach really hasn't changed from last year to this year. With the success that we saw last year, in our first season back, our main goal for this season was to keep as much of the team together as possible. We are returning 15 players, and feel that the cohesiveness that was gained as we progressed through last season will benefit us in 2019. Before learning that we were promoted to D2, we were already trying to make the necessary improvements to finish what we started last year; win D3 and advance further in the Wood Cup after our early exit in PK's to Panthers. Having just announced our 7 signings for the 2019 campaign, three of which have D1 or D2 experience, we definitely feel as though we have improved at all three levels especially in the attacking third with the signing of Kolb and Patterson. We are very excited to have the opportunity to compete at a higher level, but we also know that this will be a challenge with no easy matches. Our expectation was to be the favorite in D3 to win the title, now we are developing new goals for our new challenge, one of which is to be competitive week in and week out.
BDSL: You mention Wood Cup here. What’s the balance like for that? Would that be a goal for your guys this year? Or is your focus more on the league? Do you feel the balance between teams in D2 & D3 is equal enough that all teams have an equal shot, or as close as you could to it?
LFC: We are definitely putting an emphasis on Wood Cup this year. Ever since we won the cup in 2014 with Niagara FC, it has always been a goal of ours to win it again. The hope is that the turnout is good on Thursday nights, which I know is a yearly struggle for a lot of teams, and with our depth we feel like we can make a run at the cup this year.
Honestly, I think there is a gap between D2 and D3. I think you saw that in the table last year. There were the top 5 teams, four of which are now in D2, and then a large gap between the rest of the division. Obviously we will see how Tesla, Medina, NY Elite, and us fair against stiffer competition, but I think most D3 teams will struggle if drawn against D2 sides at full strength.
BDSL: That’s interesting for sure. Why do you think the gap is so wide? Is it top players are just better in D2 or is more depth overall?
LFC: I do think the top players in D2 are better, but I think it's the depth of the teams in D2 that makes a big difference. I think the depth of our team is what led to our success last year. Top to bottom we were solid, and there wasn't much drop off as you went down the depth chart.
BDSL: Do you keep that approach in mind when recruiting? Is it a top target kind of approach or does the play style and personality need to mesh as well? Some cases it must surely be worth a gamble or risk.
LFC: Our approach to recruiting is all about squad depth and cohesiveness. If we can get a top target then we will, but we won't sacrifice the good of the team for one player. Our goal is to add the right pieces that fit in with the style and personality while also improving the squad, and we feel as though we have done that this year. While winning is very important to us, at the end of the day we all want to enjoy our football and look forward to showing up every week. There was a time when I ran Niagara FC that I lost sight of that, and for some, it was no longer fun and enjoyable.
BDSL: Is there a team that you would call your rival in the league? Or maybe one personally you look forward to playing this year in the D2?
LFC: As LaSalle FC, we are still relatively new, so I don’t think we have any specific rivals since we’ve only been around for two seasons. This season we are looking forward to playing Kingsman SC, I personally am friends with a number of the guys on the team and we have played them all winter at Sportsplex. They are great guys and always fun to play against.
BDSL: Is there anything you'd like to see added to or changed to the league? Maybe something you picked up when you played in other leagues outside of Western NY?
LFC: Due to my schedule, I only played some indoor leagues during my two years in NJ, so I didn't get to experience their outdoor league at all. But, one idea that I did have would be to move to one cup as we did a few years ago but structure it more like the FA Cup and with a draw after each round. Possibly the first, second, and third divisions play against each other in the early round games, then the championship is added to the draw, and then finally the premier as the rounds progress. Would at least allow lower level teams to play in the cup and not draw a Premier team in the first round. Could even have the Wood Cup begin with teams knocked out after the first two rounds. Might be difficult with scheduling and a limited season, but it would be a cool idea.
BDSL: Anything else we haven't covered or you'd want to add here for the good of soccer?
LFC: Again, thank you for asking me to do this interview series; it's been a lot of fun. I also want to thank the board, but also all the other clubs across the league for all the hard work everyone puts into this league. Since I joined this league in 2009, a lot has changed. There are only three of us still playing together from the original 2009 Niagara FC team, the league has grown significantly and added a fifth division, and now most teams are on Twitter. It's pretty cool to see the growth of this league over the years, and I'm excited to see where we go from here.