"We want the whole thing!"
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Mornin' everyone! I'm pleased to bring this interview to you this morning. As you'll remember, last week I interviewed Savannah Clovers, who have been working closely with Lowcountry United to improve the soccer scene in their region of the south. They're almost working together like sister clubs. Alan Bahadori took some time to discuss that relationship, the upcoming friendly with Savannah, and his clubs appearance in the Carolina State Champions League. Check it out.
Who you are, where you're from, and what your roll is with Lowcountry United.
My name is Alan Bahadori, I am from beautiful Charleston South Carolina. I have always been involved in soccer from playing days in school to coaching youth development at the local soccer academy to organizing, building and coaching club teams. I am the owner and head coach of Lowcountry United. However, I also handle all the operations of the club from merchandise sales to marketing & advertisement for Lowcountry United! I do whatever needs to be done for the progression of my players and the club. Good thing I'm already bald because I don't have much more hair to lose!
How did you come to be involved with playing soccer in school? Don't hear much about soccer in the Carolina's, even with Clemson doing so well the last few years.
My involvement when quite young in school was always recreational/development. Playing over the years pick up games and other local area clubs while trying to make my mark on the high school team I went to which was Stratford High School. They had a fantastic program but I wasn't selected which for me was OK because I was so focused on the tactical aspect of the game, how did the players do certain things, how did the coach know what to do? How did it all look so easy? So I focused on how coaching soccer works and I love every minute of it. Soccer in Charleston South Carolina is limited. The USL's Charleston Battery, which is the local professional club, were fantastic for the Lowcountry, kick-starting the interest in Charleston to support soccer at a higher level. Local soccer in Charleston now is fantastic with dedicated pick up groups, YMCA & several youth academy clubs, local pub teams as well as the USASA sanctioned Charleston Soccer League. The recreation aspect of soccer and development is wonderful in Charleston. However there still are yet to be any additional opportunities for players to progress with a club into any professional leagues here locally. The talent in the Lowcountry is phenomenal from academy to adult and we at LUFC want to invest in the club in Charleston and be the club that is committed to providing that opportunity to local players.
How did Lowcountry United come into being? Basically, what's the team's 'origin story?'
I decided to officially start Lowcountry United about Summer of 2015 and officially put it into effect fall of 2015 after managing a local pub team and seeing that after each season players were searching for more games, more training, and more opportunities. I saw the support that local businesses and communities had for the local teams and I wondered why there is nothing else here available for the community to support and for local players to be passionate about. The answer was simple; there wasn't a lower division club in Charleston that was pursuing elite level competition. So I decided we needed to bring the highest quality competition of local league and the NPSL to Charleston.
I began with creating some local connections with nothing more than a vision and a plan of what we would accomplish. With backing from local business owner John Teevan I entered our club in Charleston Soccer League and bombed out, finishing 8th in the first season. We continued to press on with our vision of building a community focused grassroots soccer club and through recruitment & training we won the league undefeated the following season and now will be representing the club in the State level Champions League. I figured that was not enough on our club resume so we entered into the USASA Regional competition and took 2nd in our division to now compete in the USASA national qualifiers in June. Until we gain the sponsors and investors needed to officially finalize membership into the NPSL we have the vision of continuing to compete at the highest levels available and offer opportunities for players with events and tournaments around the Lowcountry!
What level of competition does the Charleston Soccer League and the State Champions League look like? Is it pretty competitive?
Charleston Soccer League (CSL) is the most competitive non league football the Charleston area offers. The league is run by Charleston County and they offer competitive men's Division 1, 2 & 3. The competition is of a good quality, with teams being comprised of many college players, rec players and former semi & pro players. Its a good mix up of local competition. The SC Amateur Soccer Association's Champions League is the official revamped State Premier League from several years ago that USASA has brought back to benefit clubs with higher competition. The league is comprised of 2 teams from each of the state competitive leagues and they will compete for the season title and an opportunity to enter into the USASA Region 3 qualifiers. Based on the information available to us, this should be a very competitive league that showcases South Carolina's elite clubs from around the state. We are excited for the opportunity this coming season and look forward to the new competition!
How many teams are you expecting will be in the Champions League?
Should be a total of 10 teams including LUFC in the Champions League.
Really? There are enough competitive leagues in South Carolina for that? Looks like there's a lot more going on down there then I thought.
Yes sir, there are 5 competitive leagues underneath the SC Amateur Soccer Association; Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Columbia, Greenville and Florence, I believe.
That's pretty impressive. Have you seen teams from these other leagues play before, or will this be a brand new experience for you and the team?
For Lowcountry United specifically, yes, it will be a new experienced for myself and some of the players, but they are a fantastic groups of lads that are always up for a challenge. I'm excited for my players to get this opportunity to showcase their talent at our state level. They are focused on the club vision of continuing to progress our club's competitive resume to help us in making our way into the NPSL. The players are focused on doing their best in becoming a team people want to support, a club businesses want to invest in and role models people want to look up to.
New experiences are a great thing. Since it's your first year in that competition, what is your goal for the team? Respectable finish, winning the whole thing, not getting run of the field by the opponent?
We want the whole thing! We are very competitive as a club and we look forward to claiming the State title this year. We are excited as well to have this high level competition available for us to keep the players fit and ready for our USASA Region 3 finals in June.
I like it. Set the bar high! I haven't had the chance to interview anyone involved in the Regional competitions with the USASA. What does that normally involve? Will you be playing teams from all over the south?
We will be competing against clubs from any of the 12 states under Region 3. (FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, LA, North TX, South TX, OK, MS, AL, AK) The National Ameatur Cup is made up of the winning clubs that progress from each of the USASA Regions. To get to nationals we have to take on the Region 3 qualifiers in June which will be in Raleigh NC. Lucky for us, as typically these tournaments are not as close to SC. We hope we will be in a position to host the event in the future and bring elite soccer to Charleston. For Lowcountry United it entails a lot because we are building a club based on a grassroots approach. Everything we do is open to the public, we have to prove our club's vision and focus is to compete at the highest levels possible so we have a lot more to prove than maybe some others. The regional's tournament allows for any club underneath USASA to compete so we have recently had the pleasure of competing against some fantastic clubs like Appalachian State Soccer and even Tobacco Rd FC which just left the NPSL. So the competition is a showcase of great clubs and talent and we love and look forward to the opportunity to highlight our club and our beautiful city of Charleston SC.
Talk about a huge region to draw teams from. Hopefully the tournament goes well for you. Now, having never been to Charleston, and not visiting South Carolina in over a decade, how would you describe your city and state to an outsider looking in?
Charleston is a city of where history, progression and innovation blend together. Charleston has the beautiful southern charm of the historic south ripe with history while also boasting a progressive local market of innovative businesses, technology companies and a progressive tourist marketplace. Charleston is a city filled with incredibly passionate people and businesses dedicated to the progression of the Charleston area. We always say that Charleston has something in the water because once you come here you never want to leave!
Everyone I know who has visited Charleston wants to go back. Where are you hoping to have Lowcountry United in the next 5 years?
The first thing is that we hope to secure an official home venue with area facilities. We plan to continue that pursuit and finalize an exclusive home venue for the club by end of this year. (Opportunities available) We will continue with our grassroots approach to providing competitive elite level soccer to Charleston. We hope in the next 5 years to ensure we have an official home venue, have a fantastic network of fans as well as club sponsors and investors. We hope to be competing successfully each season in the NPSL.
When you say you're looking to secure a home venue, are you wanting to find a field to rent, or actually build your own home?
The long term goal is to build our own stadium. Unfortunately we do not have the backing required to accomplish that so we do hope to gain sponsorship or rent a facility in the short term to get going in the NPSL.
On the topic of the stadium, some of the team owners I talk with and myself go over what a good home ground should look like, what it should contain, those types of details. Should they be fancy, or should teams start out by doing field more in the vein of what non league teams in England do. If you could start on, say, Phase One of your home field, what are three or four things you would consider absolutely essential at the start?
Fantastic questions. The first thing would be the actual field itself. Proper drainage and quality of the surface is a huge priority and one that defines a clubs field. Second capacity of the stadium would be to ensure we can host as many local supporters as possible. Third would be the additional vendors and common area spaces of the grounds to ensure that there is always an opportunity for local businesses to provide concessions to the fans along with hosting local vendors in common areas to continue to return our value to our community by highlighting our connection to the local business community. Fourth I would want to ensure that besides the main field there are 2-4 small size training fields and a larger training field in order to allow club players and any local rec teams, acadamy clubs, or anyone who needs a place to train, or host an event/ tournament. Whatever needs they have, I want to be able to provide our stadium for the community. Soccer is universal, it doesn't have a language barrier, it doesn't have a social status, it doesn't have an age limit. Soccer is a game of beauty and incorporates the best value; it's a way to come together to support a club, a cause, or a movement. I want to ensure that we are always a club that is available for our community to go to in order to accomplish whatever endeavors they wish in soccer. #WeAreUNITED
Alan Bahadori of Lowcountry United
That sounds like the kind of stadium plan that might allow you to work together with local youth clubs and the Battery on, especially for training grounds. Is working together with other groups to be able to pull this off financially and make sure the field is constantly in use something you'd look into doing?
Of course! There is always something going on in Charleston that we can work with other clubs on in order to keep usage of the fields high. We have however reached out to all of the schools districts, youth clubs, colleges and city fields/complexes and so far we have not been successful in getting a meeting to finalize an agreement. We will keep working on it though! There is someone out there we just haven't talked to them yet!
Some things just take time. Especially reaching out to government entities. Since you have had the team up and running for a couple of seasons, what are two lessons you've learned from success, and two you've learned from failure?
In order to succeed you have got to be committed. You have to be ready to take the time to do everything that it takes to make the club successful. It's the first thing I think of when I wake up and the last thing when I go to sleep. No one is going to build it for you or do anything for you so you have to be committed to the journey of it all! I would have to also say another thing is you have stick to your vision. Change if something isn't working but never change your vision for the club. There have been countless times that I was told this was a ridiculous pursuit or that it won't work but I was committed and stuck to the vision of the club's philosophy. We are doing a fantastic job in putting our club's roots into Charleston. Failure is not an option for me but I can say that set-backs happen and are a fantastic teaching tool. While we have experienced several in our clubs time we know how valuable setbacks can be to ensure you do better the next time. Secondly, I learned failure allows you humility. When building a club, especially from a grassroots platform, you have to appreciate your opportunities. I remember having a meeting some time ago where I was at the downtown Charleston Johnson Hagood stadium where Citadel college football's home field is and I was discussing with the director our usage of the location. I remember looking down at the huge amount of seats and into the field and just stopping and being so humbled by the opportunity to even be standing in this building discussing this all with them. Humility in failure is a wonderful thing.
A very valuable mindset to have. Do you have a particular playing style at Lowcountry that really defines the team?
Our playing style is very direct and pass oriented. We've been fortunate enough to have a strong squad of very talented and knowledgeable players who have a good elite level of experience. The play style I have incorporated into the squad from training to matches is control the ball, control the game. We practice a lot in training on small spaces, quick successive link up play, as well as a constant give and go. Our style is always adaptive though the guys in training are constantly trained on how to handle change and still get the needed results. I coach religiously on tactical application with a freedom of creativity from the players. I think our club will be very exciting for supporters to watch in the future.
Better playing style than long balls over the top. What are a few of the 'core values' you hope to implement and make a part of your club culture moving forward?
This is an important topic for me, I talk to my players all the time about the philosophy behind everything. Our core values begin with COMMITMENT; to the club's success, our community and our supporters. PROFESSIONALISM: We as a club are dedicated to composing ourselves in a position of role models on and off the field; dignity in defeat and humility in victory. COMPETITIVENESS: We are committed to maintaining a competitive soccer club that continues to effectively compete at the highest levels possible. We need to always ensure that we are contenders! INVEST-ABILITY: We must continue our commitment to investing this club into the local community. We are here to provide local soccer opportunities in Charleston and be an outlet for the community to invest themselves in the club to support, love and feel proud to be part of this club and progress soccer in the Lowcountry together as a community through the unity of soccer!
I know a little bit about this, but I'm curious to hear your explanation. What exactly is the lowcountry, and how much of South Carolina does it cover?
Lowcountry generally is referred to as the counties of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester. Berkeley and Dorchester counties are known as the Lowcountry due to being low lying lands of these coastal areas. This area is known for the beautiful beaches, shops, historic downtown Charleston, SC ports and marina along with the fantastic island towns. From the immediate coast then you come to the more industrial part of North Charleston and the fantastic Park Circle area that is boosting up in local following with wonderful new businesses and future industrial railroads. . Berkeley and Dorchester counties are about 30 miles from the coastal beaches of the Lowcountry but they are more of the developing residential areas of the Lowcountry with progressive communities and schools popping up all over those areas. You can't help but love the Lowcountry when you live here. There's no shortage of beauty, entertainment, history and adventure here.
Mainly coastal country, then. You ready to move into some rapid fire questions to start winding down?
What is your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
Been a Manchester United supporter since I could remember. Love watching the Premier League.
Is that where the United moniker comes from?
Not fully, it came more from the desire to be an inclusive club for my city. The word United to me expresses that inclusion of being part of something bigger than yourself, part of a movement together as a community and something that brings passion for people to look forward to.
Alright, just checking. Who are your favorite players, two past, two present?
Favorite past players would be Ryan Giggs and Ronaldinho. Current players would be Wayne Rooney & Pogba both from Manchester United.
Are there any books or podcasts, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend?
I'm a bit new on the podcast side, so as far as recommendations on reading I would say Alex Ferguson's biography. Good insight on how to be the peoples manager. Also Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson is a book on tactics and I myself feel I lean more towards a tacticians view of the game.
Both good books. Do you drink beer, and if so, are there any local brews people visiting Charleston should try?
I do not drink much at all. Probably had one ice cold Magners in the last 3 months. There are several amazing local breweries here in Charleston and they are definitely places that you should visit.
Nothing wrong with that. You get to meet one person from the soccer world, past or present. Who is it, and why?
I would say Johan Cruyff. He was a fantastic manager and revolutionary in the way he instituted his vision and philosophy and built success for his clubs. Wonderful manager!
Would you rather attend the Euros, AFC Nations Cup, or World Cup?
World Cup for sure.
Last question to wrap things up. What would you say to someone asking you 'why should I support a lower league team like Lowcountry United?'
We are your local neighbors, business owners, kid's coaches, teachers and friends. We are part of our community and I'm sure it's that way for a lot of other clubs as well. Lower league clubs are all about the community; about building a foundation of success in our communities and supporting local athletes rise into obtaining opportunities to play the beautiful game with a professional club. You will be able to enjoy good competitive soccer while supporting the local club. We are all part of this community and we should be United in our efforts to progress the beautiful game, our community and our local economy together. #WeAreUNITED #SupportLocal
Sounds like a solid close to me.