The Last Frontier, by Kyle Bakas
In light of the USMNT crashing out of World Cup Qualifying, we must as Germany did in the early 2000’s turn our attention to the outlying places, and in our soccer culture these are the lower leagues.
Just as Montana was one of the last territories to be made into a state, so it is one of the last states to have a soccer team functioning in a national league. It is a place where 2.5 million head of cattle outnumber the 1 million human residents. The people embrace the rugged landscape in ever increasing numbers, and on most weekends you find what seems like half the population out exploring the great outdoors, and many are doing it after attending their children’s youth games. Montana is still culturally a state which embraces brute force games like football, and past pastimes like baseball, but there is a significant upwelling of support for the game of soccer. Migrants from the West and East Coast are coming and helping to grow the game at various youth clubs, and the colleges are bringing in a solid offering of internationals who are very passionate about the game. Now is the time for soccer to grab a foothold and start creating teams in Montana to compete in the NPSL or UPSL for the 2018 season.
Billings is the place that I would start and not just because I am currently living there. Billings has a population of 110,000 and has been steadily growing over the past several decades. The size and feel of the city reminds me a lot of Duluth Mn, where I was the Head Coach for Duluth F.C. If Duluth can get a side in the NPSL with a good following and quality play then Billings is even better suited for it. In Billings there are two institutions of higher learning: Montana State University Billings D2, and Rocky Mountain College NAIA. Both programs have a history of success in the region and both programs have produced quality individuals who have stayed in town after their tenure as student athletes. This is a lot like Duluth and provides the opportunity to create a base of high quality former college athletes. Many of these players have left Billings to play in NPSL and PDL markets, so why not create a club that keeps them at home? Money, interest and belief are the factors that make this challenging.
Running a club is not a cheap enterprise especially when the nearest city greater than 100,000 is seven hours away from you. Besides travel there are uniform costs, training field costs, stadium rentals, and league dues. Whether we choose the NPSL or UPSL will depend on our ability to raise operating funds. Both are growing leagues and neither currently offer opponents within a 7 hour radius of Billings.
Minimizing costs is essential unless we can find a backer with a sincere love for the game and deep pockets. For now it has to be a shoestring operation. But what a place for such an operation! Billings is able to support a semi-pro baseball team, the Mustangs, to the tune of 3000 fans for 37 home appearances. Home games can be held at either of the college stadiums or even possibly down the road at Amend Park which boasts 14 full sized grass fields. It’s hard to imagine that the 3500 plus youth soccer players in the area wouldn’t be able to convince their parents to take them to game, but if that does not work, perhaps being able to serve beer from one of our terrific micro-brews might do the trick.
Just as the cowboys saw something great in this landscape, so we something great in it. That it is barren of the greatest sport in the world is just our opportunity to leave a positive mark on the game.
You can follow Kyle and his efforts to start a team in Billings on Twitter @soccerbakas
There are two things currently going on in the soccer world that are holding my interest right now. The effort of soccer fans in Ohio to #SaveTheCrew from Anthony Precourt's attempts to move the Columbus Crew to Austin, Texas, a process streamlined by some shady contract details that Major League Soccer allowed. And the effort of two different groups to bring pro soccer to the recently saved from bankruptcy city of Hartford, Connecticut.
First, Save the Crew. Plenty has been written by people better than me about why this a sneaky, spineless, generally awful thing to happen. But I want to look ahead to the future of soccer in Columbus, Ohio.
Some of you may be familiar with the story of FC United of Manchester. A group of fans, unhappy with the purchase of Manchester United by the Glazers and it's growing debt, started a fan owned team called FC United of Manchester. And there weren't many of them behind the effort to start. Yet FC United now has a world wide cult following and it's own stadium.
Personally, I don't think MLS cares about Columbus. Precourt certainly doesn't. So I'm pretty convinced that Columbus is out of the league come 2019. So what are soccer fans, and the business owners who tried to purchase part of the Crew last year, to do?
Fortunately, the chaos of American soccer right now also creates opportunity. Chaos is a ladder, after all. I want to look at two options that are open to the people interested in keeping soccer in Columbus. NISA and the amateur leagues.
First, NISA is going to be a team owned league starting in either 2018 or 2019, based on what happens to the NASL. NISA's goal is to allow teams, where possible, to be owned in part by it's fans. This means if spurned fans of the Crew and local business owners teamed up, they could start their own community owned and operated team. Worried Mapfre is too big? Don't worry! There's a nice sized stadium in Obetz that I'm sure would be more than happy to have an anchor tenant.
Supposedly, there are 500,000 people 'signed up' to save the crew. If you could convince all of them to give $10 a year, you'd raise $5,000,000 towards the team. Even if you shrink the number of giving fans to, say, 10,000 at $50, it's still $500,000, enough for a decent stake. That's pretty, pun intended, massive.
Let's say local business owners aren't interested in this route and almost all the save the Crew momentum dies. There's still the option of amateur soccer in the NPSL or UPSL.
Going this route is even easier. 1,000 fans give $100 a year, that's $100,000 a year. That's enough to play in the NPSL or UPSL for years to come, with enough money to even go out and buy your own property and build a nice little stadium. And who wouldn't want to support a team like this, wherever you might be in the world?
Now, Hartford, Connecticut. For those who don't know, Hartford was recently saved from declaring bankruptcy thanks to the state. A few years ago, they were swindled out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by a crook attempting to renovate Dillon Stadium for a proposed NASL team.
There are now three groups attempting to renovate Dillon Stadium. One doesn't involve soccer, the other two do. Midfield Press wrote and excellent, detailed article on this that you can read by clicking here.
One group is attempting to bring the USL to Hartford, which the cities Executive Director seems to like because of the ties to MLS, in spite of the fact that this group has A, no fans and B, is requesting $10 Million in public money to match their own output of $7-$10 Million, $5 Million of which is going to cover the USL Expansion fee.
The other group is NPSL club Hartford City, who A, have fans and B, aren't requesting public money. They are looking to join NASL, which may or may not exist next year, which is an obvious downside, but are a much more prudent choice for a city that is literally out of money.
Yet it appears the great swindle that is American sports may be about to stranglehold Hartford, a city that can't afford what the team wants, while Columbus faces the facts that owners who aren't local don't care about keeping the team in your town if they think the grass is greener somewhere else, and neither does the league your team is in.
As if we needed another story proving that American soccer is in need of reform, the tale of Hartford and Columbus proves that things need to change. Business as usual is not good business, especially for fans and taxpayers.
"You don’t need a ton of fancy stuff to get your name out there. Keep costs low and use the hell out of social media. That’s where your fans will be anyways."
Today's interview is brought to you by MeritFit. MeritFit.co is a Kansas City based fitness and nutrition blog run by one of my good friends and certified Personal Trainer, Dustin Duewel. He played soccer for 12 years, inspiring his passion for fitness and nutrition. Check out his blog for all kinds of useful information to up your game and get ahead of the competition.
Hello again and welcome back to American Pyramid! I'm really pleased to be sharing this interview with you. There's a lot, and I do mean a lot, of information in here that is going to be incredibly helpful for the teams out there reading this. Zachary talks in great detail about how Tri-Cities has gone about securing sponsorship's, and how they've reached out into the community to punch way above their weight without even playing in a league. Check it out.
Rain or Shine, by Nick Shallcross
My first experience with semi-professional American soccer was a rained-out NPSL game. Detroit City vs Ann Arbor, 7th of July. Even though it was pouring down rain, the supporters stand was still full, and it didn't stop the fans from jumping up and down and chanting towards the stewards that were using giant push brooms to move waves of water from the turf. The bottom 6” of one of the corner flags was underwater. People were still everywhere, in line for food, drinking in the beer garden, counting the minutes between lightning flashes. Everyone was soaking wet and hoping that a half hour would pass after the last flash so the ref's would let the game start. We got there a bit late, and a few minutes after we walked through the gate a bright bolt of light struck in the west, sending up a perfectly synced collective groan from the thousands that were still there.
Not to be discouraged, the Northern Guard instantly erupted back into song, people made note of the new time the match would be able to start, and the party continued. Tiny Keyworth Stadium had a feeling of a large-scale festival. The game had already been delayed by a over 45 minutes and nobody seemed to care. The rain had mostly let up, and in spite of conditions being something that would normally make Detroiters more than a little grumpy, everybody was in a great mood. I saw the best possible example of the kind of atmosphere that every sports team is striving to achieve at their events.
The game was eventually called off, but I left completely blown away by the fans' dedication, and knowing that from then on I absolutely had to come to as many games as I could. Not only that, it made me actively less interested in going to a sporting event that would be any different. There was an intimacy to the scale of the game that gave everyone there a sense of togetherness and community. At every match I've been to since, there was a feeling that while the game belonged to the team, the night itself was owned by the fans. Win or lose, rain or shine, the people that came out were going to have a good time.
So what have DCFC done to so effectively build it's extremely loyal and diverse fan base? How is it that a NPSL team can pull the kind of crowds that would make some D2 teams jealous? What has happened, and is continuing to happen in Detroit that has made such a successful footprint on the pitch of American soccer? I don't have answers, but I do think young and developing teams could benefit from pursuing these questions if they want to create a relevant supporters culture capable of building a successful pro/rel pyramid in the USA. Not that Detroit should necessarily be a blueprint, but it can definitely serve as inspiration. After all, it's quite an achievement to get thousands of fans to cheer in the rain for a game that isn't happening.
Follow me on Twitter @Shallcross_Nick