THE STORY OF THE WILDCATS
In 1995 Vincent Baldino, a Princeton area construction contractor and long time soccer booster, was approached by a friend and asked if he was interested in acquiring a New Jersey franchise in the USL’s women’s league. His immediate answer was “No.”
Vince was born on the Italian Island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples. Vince immigrated to the United States in the late 1960’s and like most Italians he brought his love of the game of soccer with him. Within a few years Vince organized his own amateur men’s team based in Princeton and so the Princeton Soccer Club was born. Almost immediately PSC became a major soccer power in the South Jersey league. Vince was owner, coach and player of PSC until 1988. When approached by dedicated soccer friends about joining them in acquiring a franchise in the American Professional Soccer League (a professional league at the time) the answer then was an immediate “Yes.”
That franchise, the Penn-Jersey Spirit, lasted only two years. For Vince it was a big disappointment. At the time Vince believed he had given all he could to the sport of soccer and decided to dedicate his time to playing tennis, something he still loves today.
When in 1995 he was approached about acquiring a franchise in the Women’s League, he said “No” but after a few words of persuasion from friends it was easy for Vince to jump right back in. His passion for soccer was still strong as he proclaims, “The passion for this game is something that grows inside you when you are a kid and stays with you forever.” The New Jersey Wildcats were born.
Vince has been the driving force behind the team ever since. During their first eight years in the W-League the Wildcats struggled to stay above the .500 mark, but Vince never gave up hope. Every year people asked if he would do it again next year and the answer was always “Yes.” He knew sooner or later something great would happen.
In 2004 Vince decided it was time to make some changes. He hired an entirely new staff including a new head coach. The big coup, however, was when Kelly Smith of England (one of the best players in the world), Marinette Pichon of France (a FIFA All-Star), Anne Makinen of Finland and New Jersey’s very own Olympic team star Heather O’Reilly (of East Brunswick) joined the team and a dynasty was born. In 2004 the Wildcats completed their first perfect regular season (14-0) and advanced to the W-League’s National Championship game in Ottawa but they ultimately had their hearts broken losing the title game to Vancouver in a tiebreaker penalty shootout.
The 2005 season provided a different and happier story. The team finished the regular season 13-1. It defeated Vancouver in the W-League semi-finals and in front of a packed house of 2,233 people at Mercer County Community College it won the W-League Championship defeating Ottawa, 3-0. One headline read “First Revenge then the Cup.”
In 2006 the team completed its second 14-0 season in the last three years. The many top international and American players on the New Jersey Wildcats’ roster made it a true multi-national All-Star team. And with national team players from Japan, Canada, Switzerland and Brazil not only did New Jersey soccer fans have a chance to see the very best the sport has to offer, it also gave many young American players the chance to expand their soccer development by playing and training with these top world athletes.
In 2007 and 2008, Vince and the NJ Wildcats without the services of Charlie Naimo and his team of players and administators, who all went to Sky Blue a new W-League franchise and Charlie eventually to Pali Blues the 2008 W-League Champions, the NJ Wildcats struggled.
Vince having been to the top in 2005 winning the W-League Championship decided it was time to move on. He contacted Kevin McDermott, the President of USP Soccer, Inc., who Vince knew was looking to buy a franchise since 2006. In late September, USP Soccer, Inc. and Vince Baldino closed on the deal and USP Soccer, Inc. moved forward.
USP Soccer, Inc. was founded in October of 1997 and is now the largest soccer service provider in Monmouth County with over 1100 soccer campers attending their camps yearly, over 41 teams involved with their team training program, and the success of the USP Soccer Academy Program youth teams (which come from many different clubs) is unprecedented with thier academy teams achieving 8 NJ State Cup Championships, 6 Region I Championships, and 2 National Championships.
Two key members of the New Jersey soccer community were immediately brought into the mix to help guide the NJ Wildcats in 2009. Dave Barbour one of the top club coaches in the country coached the team. Dave is the Director of Coaching for Real New Jersey Soccer Club based in South Jersey. Jim Gooley will consult the organization and run the Game Day Operations. Jim currently works with the NJ Ironmen Professional Men’s team and has extensive experience running W-League teams as he was a key player with the operations of the Central Jersey Splash, New Brunswick Power, New Jersey Wildcats, and a brief stint with New Jersey Sky Blue. In 2009, with the new ownership group running the team and Dave Barbour (7-6-1 career) as the head coach the team compiled a 7-6-1 winning record. The team was very happy with the work Coach Barbour did for the team. Don’t be surprised if you see him again in the future as the teams head coach in the years to come. Nice work Dave!
Kevin McDermott 14-7-4 (.785 career USL W-League) took the head coaching reins in 2010 and led the team to the playoffs in 2010 for the first time since 2006. Again in 2011, the team made the playoffs and lost a tight 2-3 game to the Atlanta Silverbacks, which went on to win the championship game 6-1 and semi-final game 3-1. The team is getting very close to breaking through to the Final Four again! Homere Breton, Tom Boykin, and Catherine Gordon have all done a great job coaching the team as well during this time period. It was a great team effort all the way around in 2010 and 2011, and the team looks to be a mainstay in the playoffs from this point on. The goal remains the same win the W-League Championship!
Heading into the 2012 W-League season, the Wildcats announced that renown women’s coach Jim Gabarra will be the head coach of the team with McDermott, Breton and Gordon on his staff. Additionally, the Wildcats created a partnership with Sky Blue FC of WPS, further strenghtning its footprint in the New Jersey soccer community.
The 2013 season looks promising. Kevin McDermott, head coach in 2010 and 2011 (both seasons playoff bids) will again run the sideline. Coaches Homere Breton and Tommy Boykin will be working the sidelines as well. Coach Homere has been with the Cats since 2009 and Coach Tommy with the team since 2010. What is unique about this season is that the Wildcats youth program and Wildcats women's program has finally intersected and the organizations pyramid is complete. More the half the NJ Wildcats W-League team is going to be home grown Wildcats players that have came through the Wildcats youth system. This will create the most cohesive team in Wildcats history. Veterans with several W-League years experience coupled with our top level home grown Wildcats will compete for the League title in 2013.
The NJ Wildcats have a strong foundation for many future years of success!