The Players Who Paved The Way - Part Four

We Honor our Teammate, our Leader, our Coach, and our Friend, Gareth Lea

Over the course of time, players come and go as the team's roster is
forever changing, but sometimes a player comes along that changes 
the dynamic of the team. A player that brings knowledge, skill, 
athleticism, confidence, and the poise needed to lead his club. A 
player that is a terrific teammate, leads by example and is someone 
you can count on when a big moment is needed in a match. For 
SSFAC, that player was....... Gareth Lea. 


As the 2012 season was about to begin, SSFAC was looking to make a 
run at the top spot in the Premier Division. They knew it would be a tall 
task as they they were coming off a 2nd place finish to league champion 
Palo Alto SC. Having led the league in scoring with 54 goals and racking 
up 11 wins, the team seemed to be hitting their stride. Now they would 
have to deal with fellow competitors Shaheen, Outsiderz, Club Sport 
Maritimo and Rovers, but this season would be different. The style of play
was about to change the teams hopeful ascension to the top of the table. 
Gone was the over the top long ball attack, as well as the defensive 
strategy of just clearing the ball out of danger.
The team was now playing the game with a calm confident approach, and 
they were building play out of the back and holding possesion as they 
came up field. The difference was the addition of Gareth Lea to the Center
Midfield position. Joining the team for the 2012 season, Gareth quickly
brought an element of a steady poised and controlled tempo. He knew 
when to ramp things up and push the attack, and he knew when to slow 
things down and settle into a pace that would allow for everyone to 
become involved in the play. His vision and experience was the valueable 
tool that had been missing. Gareth became the "center of the teams 
universe" as he made sure that the way the teams play was like gliding a
paint brush over a canvas.
It changed the course the team was on and during his 10 seasons with 
the team, they complied a record of 89 wins, 66 losses and 26 ties. They 
were promoted to the PSL Majors Division in his 1st season and then won
the Majors Division in 2021. Gareth tallied 22 goals and 14 assists for the 
team during that run, and became the teams Player/Coach in 2019. His
contributions gave SSFAC it's most successful run in the clubs storied 
history and has provided them with tools and confidence needed as they 
have taken their game to the next level as part of the Pacific Division of 
the Southwest Premier League.
Recently we had a chance to catch up with Gareth and get his thoughts o
on an amazing career
Q.  How old were you when you first started playing? 
GL:  "I started to play football (soccer) at the young age of 6."
Q.  What opportunities did you have to play while living in England as a 
GL:  "I had many opportunities playing soccer as a kid, but my favorite is 
that I got to play the game with my best friends at school."
Q.  Did you play any other sports as a child? 
GL:  "I played many different sports as a kid growing up in England. I 
played tennis, badminton and basketball."
Q.  At what point did you know that soccer was the sport you'd stick 
GL:  "I knew straight away that soccer would be the game for me because
the game felt natural to me and I had so much fun playing in a team with 
Q.  Your best memory as a youth player?
GL:  "My best memory as a youth player was playing for my local team 
Hawthorns. My Dad was the coach and we got to a final and played at 
Southend United's stadium. It was a big deal because you don't get many 
chances to play there. It was a dream come true for me and my 
teammates! Later on, playing as an over 18 was a bit of an eye opener.
With guys much much older, it was a real physical battle out on the field."
Q.  When did you move to the U.S.?
GL:  "I came to the US in 2012. This was the first time I had lived in a 
different country."
Q.  What was the most difficult change you had to adapt to upon arriving 
GL:  "The most challenging thing coming to the US was pretty much 
starting your whole life again from scratch."
Q.  How did you become involved in playing in an adult league in this 
GL:  "I got involved in playing soccer in the US by contacting some teams
on Craigslist."
Q.  When did you join SSFAC and how did that happen?
GL:  "I was playing for Monks Kettle in a league in the City. One of their 
players, Scott Ellis, mentioned to me that SSFAC were having tryouts and
that I should come along. So I did and the rest is history."

                                       Gareth's First Season with the Team                              

                             SSFAC 2012-13,   2nd Place PSL Premier Division

Front Row L to R,  Luis De Paz,  Dilian Donev,  Omar Nawabi,  Leandro 
Monteiro,  Fabio Marques,  Blair Smith, Hany Helmy,  Back Row L to R,  Abner 
Ramos,  Paul Pavich,  Scott Ellis,  Bobby Quinlan,  Gareth Lea,  Damian Hites, 
Coach Daniele,  Coach Mike 


Q.  What if any, is the difference in playing in the US as compared to 
GL:  "The level of playing soccer in the US is quite similar to England. 
Maybe in England it was a little bit more technical and physical."


Q.  Any teammates that stood out over the years while at SSFAC?
GL:  "There were many good teammates who played for SSFAC, so it's 
hard to pick out certain players. For me, when the team worked hard for 
each other, we were a formidable force!"
Q.  Is there one game specifically that leaves you with a special memory?
GL:  "There's many games that leave me with special memories, but there
was a particular game, I think it was the first game of the 2013-14 season, 
and we played Shaheen and won the game 6-0. The team that day played
extremely well! It was a pleasure to be out on the field that day."
Q.  Name one team you enjoyed playing against the most and why? 
GL:  "One team I loved playing against was Santa Clara Sporting. It was
always a great battle!"

Q.  Your best moment while playing for SSF?
GL:  "One of my best moments playing for SSFAC was helping the team 
promoted to the Majors Division."
Q.  Looking back at your playing days, how would you characterize your 
experience playing on the team? 
GL:  "I look back on my playing days with SSFAC with cherished 
memories. It was a real honor to pull on the jersey. I had so much fun and 
had some amazing teammates and some truly wonderful coaches."
Q.  You took over as player coach for the team in 2019, what was that 
experience like? 
GL:  "Taking over as coach of SSFAC was a tough transition. I still wanted
to play, but I knew I had to sacrifice my time on the field to help the guys 
from the sidelines."
Q.  What advice would you give to todays players starting out?
GL:  "My advice to players starting out is to work hard and listen to the 
coaches. It's tough, but you've got to keep a positive mindset."
Q.  What is your favorite professional team, and the player you love to 
GL:  "My favorite pro team is Liverpool. My local team from England is
Southend who play in the National League. Favorite player to watch.......
Messi !
Q.  Did soccer open any opportunities for you that you didn't expect, and 
how has it helped you?
GL:  "Soccer gave me many opportunities to meet new people and build 
special relationships with them." 
                                         Hangin With My Guys !!

Q.  What lies ahead for you now that you've retired from playing?
GL:  "Now that I've stopped playing for SSFAC, I hope to take on a role of 
a consultant to the club. Also I have a family, so my life is pretty busy!"
Q.  You've had many roles in soccer,...... player, coach, management of 
the team....what did you like the best?
GL:  "My favorite role in soccer is playing out on the field. I do also like 
helping youngsters who are just starting off in their careers."
Q.  What is your favortie takeaway from your playing days with the team 
and one thing you remember that will always leave you with a smile?
GL:  "I've had many many great years with SSFAC. It is so hard to pick a 
favorite moment. Every season I played or coached in, was fantastic. To
wear the SSFAC jersey for 10 years was a true blessing. Also to see the
best coach (Mike Pizzo) in the world smiling at the end of the game was 
truly wonderful!
From day one, it was obvious to everyone on the team that having Gareth 
join them was a blessing. It was like he had always been there. He 
blended in immediately and his passion for the game rubbed off on his 
teammates. Winning was fun of course, but Gareth made sure that his 
team knew what it would take to be successful. If they suffered through a 
tough outting, he would emphasize the positives and encourage everyone
to respond as he knew they could. When he spoke, his teammates were
focused on every word, because they understood the message, and the 
way he delivered it was always inspirational. Gareth brought the best out
in his teammates. He played the game not only with his abilities, but also 
but also with his heart.
SSFAC had found it's leader.... a tough competitor, who gave it all he had
every time he stepped on the pitch. His example and work ethic along
with his ability to see the game like no one else could, brought seasons of
success to the club. In his final seasons, leading the team as its Coach 
was a fitting end to his story. He was the ultimate teacher and role model, 
but most of all he was an amazing guy and a wonderful friend. The PSL 
and the SWPL teams he faced as a player and a Coach, had so much 
respect for him and the way he guided the team. After a match, every 
opponent made sure to come over and shake his hand. That speaks 
volumes about the impact he made on all those he came in contact with. 
His playing days may have come to an end, but the foundation he built for
this team going forward will be his crowning achievement. Knowing that 
he is just a phone call away when the guys need his input, advice, and a 
little bit of TLC, will surely make the future just as bright as the last 10 
seasons were. As it has always been said...." Once your a part of the 
                                        THANK YOU GARETH  !!!!