"Go support your local team and experience the passion!"
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Hello again, and welcome back to AP! At the start of the week, I was really torn about what interview to release this week, whether this one, or my interview with Northern Virginia United. After posing the question on Facebook and Twitter, Madison Dragons SC, a club from Rexburg, Idaho, swamped the Facebook post with comments and won out!
I'm trying to even remember how I heard about these guys. They might actually popped on Facebook as one of those 'Like' suggestions. Regardless, I was able to connect with the club and make an interview happen. Needless to say things are different for soccer in this part of the country. Unique challenges, lower participation, and also surprising opportunities. Check it out.
Tell readers a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your roll is with the Madison Dragons SC.
My name is Tikal Jonson, I am a 22-year-old Business Management student at BYU-Idaho. I grew up in Lehi, Utah, a city about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City, where I found my love for soccer. I am a life-long soccer player and referee. I am the current Head Coach of Madison Dragons SC, so basically I run training's, procure equipment, find sponsors and donations, schedule friendlies, and manage everything else involved with the team. I also play on the team, and would have been a player-coach last season had I not torn my ACL. Hopefully I can both play and coach this year.
How did you come to be a fan of soccer?
When I was young, my parents let me play whatever sport I wanted to. After bouncing around between football, baseball, basketball, and soccer, I decided to stick with soccer at age 10. From there my love for the game grew. I played for a club in Lehi called Utah Arsenal SC, so naturally I started trying to watch Arsenal FC games. I still vividly remember one of my favorite Christmas presents being my parents telling me that they had upgraded our TV subscription so that we now had access to Fox Soccer Channel so that I could watch the EPL. At this point in time Real Salt Lake had just been started up, so I instantly became a fan and began going to games. Over the years this love for soccer has grown into an obsession. I try to have soccer involved in every part of my life. I also got to live in Spain for two years as a Mormon missionary, so walking by Camp Nou and the Santiago Bernabéu every day and playing soccer in the streets definitely helped grow my passion for the beautiful game.
What's the 'origin story' behind the creation of Madison Dragons SC? And since you play in Rexburg, Idaho, why are you Madison?
Madison Dragons SC was founded in 2002 by Peter Stilling. The goal of the team was to provide people in Southeastern Idaho an opportunity to play at a higher level than offered by Sunday or Intramural leagues in the area. Over the years the Dragons were able to play in friendlies against teams from Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arizona. Mainly the team has focused on playing against other colleges due to the fact that the Dragons are made up of BYU-Idaho students.
In the fall of 2016, Madison Dragons SC was accepted into the West Coast Soccer Association and has played in the Inter-mountain Conference for the last two years. This conference includes Boise State University, BYU (the one most people know about located in Provo, Utah), Utah State University, the University of Utah, Utah Valley University, Southern Utah University, and Weber State University. Although, over the years, the players and coaches have changed, Madison Dragons SC is still known for being a team that represents the type of students that BYU-Idaho produces: Competitive, passionate, yet respectful.
The name "Madison" comes from Madison County where Rexburg is located, but most teams just end up referring to us as the BYU-I Dragons, although we are not a university sponsored program.
I've never had the opportunity to go to Idaho, so how would you describe it to an outsider. What makes it special and how's the local soccer scene?
Idaho is a very unique place, soccer is still relatively small here, but it is growing rapidly. Southeastern Idaho (where Rexburg is located) as a whole is fairly rural but Rexburg has a great college-town environment. What makes Idaho special is the fact that soccer is still small here. This means that a person can help influence the game more here than he or she would be able to in a different location. For me, it gave me an opportunity to play against some bigger teams like BYU (who was in the PDL until late last year) and develop relationships with the local soccer community.
Basically, being in Idaho gives me the best of both worlds. The local adult soccer scene is fairly limited. Apart from the Dragons, there are intramural leagues on campus, a Sunday league in nearby Idaho Falls, and a Latin league. The youth soccer scene is growing rapidly but still pales in comparison to other states.
What does the support for your team in the local community look like?
The support for our team in the local community mainly comes from students at BYU-Idaho and Rexburg residents. Our local support has been great thanks to some new sponsors from last season and the willingness of the City of Rexburg to work with us. We are slowly becoming a more well known name in Southeastern Idaho thanks to friendlies with local U19 teams and our increased presence on social media.
There are league opportunities opening up in Idaho now. The UPSL has a team in Boise, and is expanding like crazy in your area. Have you considered looking to take Madison to another level to get more steady games?
It's exciting isn't it?! We are always looking to take the team on to new heights! Two years ago we were just playing friendlies against anyone who would give us a game, and now we are part of a league (West Coast Soccer Association). As we move forward we will continue to consider what fits our team best, while considering our limitations (limited budget, player turnover, etc.). Maybe one day you'll see us in a league like the UPSL or the NPSL.
Since you are on the ground in Idaho, what do you think could be done to help grow the game in your state and get more people and teams involved?
The biggest challenge we have here in Idaho is travel. To find good competition we have to travel for an average of 3 hours. The best thing for soccer in the state of Idaho is growth at the youth level. Part of our goal as a team is to grow local interest in the sport. As that interest grows, the league will continue to grow, creating more competition for us and future players. As a team, whenever we get a chance, we play against local U18 or U19 teams. We’ve found that this helps the local hype around soccer.
Like any good endeavor, having goals for a soccer team is important. Where do you hope to see the Dragons in the next three to five years?
In the next three to five years our goal is to have won the conference we are competing in at least once, and have made the regional tournament 3 times. We also strive to have at least one player move onto a bigger team than us per year. This could mean anything from a school sponsored team that offers scholarships, to a PDL, NPSL or UPSL team.
Why do you think people tend to forget about Idaho when it comes to soccer in the US? Is that just part of being in the Northwest and out of the regular US soccer orbit?
People in Idaho are typically more “traditional” when it comes to sports, meaning they grew up playing football, basketball, and baseball. Because of this, people tend to put their kids into sports that they (as parents) understand, meaning not soccer. Naturally, with fewer kids playing soccer, it becomes forgotten in all the small town hype of Friday night high school football and basketball, or Boise State football.
What are two or three of the biggest hurdles you've faced with Madison Dragons? Can be on the playing field, or the coaching and business side of the team.
Some of the biggest hurdles I’ve faced with Madison Dragons SC have been having full player commitment (willingness to travel for away games, time off of work and school for practice, etc), finding financial backing and collecting funds (about half of our expenses were covered by sponsors, and the other half was covered by the players themselves), and then from a coaching standpoint it was really hard to transition from a player to player relationship (from the 2016 season) to a coach to player relationship.
When it comes to sponsors, how do you typically go about approaching them, and have their responses changed the longer the team has been around?
Our sponsorship's all come down to personal relationships that we, both as a whole and as individual players, have with local business owners. Ideally we would have a whole network of sponsors in the area, but, because of our high player turnover we rarely have a sponsor for more than one year. However, as the team is becoming more recognized in the area, we don't have to give as many full explanations of who the team is when searching for potential sponsors. Still, our sponsors are mainly found through player connections.
Outside of your conference, are their any other local cups or tournaments you're able to be involved in?
During my short time with the Dragons we have only participated in a couple of round-robin exhibition tournaments. In these tournaments, we have played against a mix of teams from our conference and other teams that either aren't affiliated with any league or are in a men's league.
Are there any men's leagues in Idaho right now? I haven't had any luck finding them if they're out there.
There are a couple of very small men's leagues in Idaho right now, one of which is in Idaho Falls (about 30 miles away). In Boise, there is a decent indoor league and then there are some scattered Latin leagues. Basically, you just find out about these leagues by word of mouth in Idaho, so even being here I have a hard time finding any information about them.
What do you think of the changes in the lower leagues of US soccer? Do you see them as something positive for the future of Dragons SC?
I am really pleased by the development and changes in the lower leagues of US soccer. With USL D3 starting next year, the UPSL gaining steam with how easy it is join, and the continued growth of other leagues, this is very positive for the future of Madison Dragons SC. With this lower league development, there is more opportunity for a young player to get a shot at playing professionally.
I hope to see the Dragons become a great springboard for passed over young players to get into a league like USL D3 or the PDL. The dream for me is to help a young, late-blooming American Jamie Vardy get his feet under himself and move up through the leagues after starting with Madison Dragons SC.
If you could change one thing about soccer in your state, what would it be and why?
I would change the mentality that after graduating high school, the next soccer step is to go play at a junior or community college. I wish players would realize how much more beneficial playing in a lower league would be for them as players. I understand the desire to get school paid for by a scholarship, but with the accessibility of online universities today, you'd be better off finding a lower league team that'd pick you up and pay for some of your online degree. If that doesn't work, then I'd tell you to go play for a junior college. Basically to sum that up, I'd like to change the idea that college soccer is the next step in a young player's career.
One thing I'm really curious about when it comes to non league teams is why it's being done. I mean, without promotion and relegation, or in your case, even having a local league to play in, your options for growth are artificially constricted. Why do something like run a team when your growth and opportunity are so limited?
What makes it all worth it for me is providing an opportunity, even if its just one last opportunity, to play soccer at a higher level than just a men's league. When I graduated high school I thought that my playing days (outside of a men's league) were over. So, when I found this team and was given a chance at playing again, it meant the world to me. Actually, it still means the world to me. Sure we won't get promoted or win a huge cash prize, but just the fact that this team provides people like me with that opportunity makes it worth my time and money. Also, aside from being able to give people a chance, I would say that I'm addicted to soccer and that this team is a great way to feed that addiction.
Let's wrap this up with some short questions. What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
My favorite leagues to watch are the Premier League and La Liga, but my favorite team to watch is Real Salt Lake because they are my hometown team.
Favorite soccer players, one past, one present.
Past: Thierry Henry. (I love watching him attack and finish)
Current: Olivier Giroud. (He is one of the most underrated forwards in the game, and his personality is exactly what I want to see in a player. Also there was last years Puskas Award...man that was pretty.)
Do you have any books or podcasts, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend to people reading this?
How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer. It was interesting looking at the world through a soccer lens.
If you could meet one person from soccer history, who would it be?
Johan Cruyff, because he developed total football and I admire that style very much.
Where can people find out more about you and the team online?
Here are the links to our social media sites and our website.
Facebook page: https://m.facebook.com/MadisonDragonsSC/
What would you say to someone asking you why they should get out there and support their local amateur team, like Madison Dragons SC?
Amateur players don’t get paid to play, in fact they pay to play, so they're not just here for the money. This means that local amateur teams are made up of people who are truly passionate about soccer. When you support a local amateur team, you not only get to experience a part of that passion, but you give a player the opportunity to live out his or her dream of playing in front of fans. Go support your local team and experience the passion!
Jody, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the content I'm putting out, please consider supporting us on Patreon by Clicking Here. Or you can click here to Follow me on Twitter, or here to Like the page on Facebook. Make sure to spread the word by sharing these interviews, telling friends about the blog, those kind of things. I can't accomplish my goal of maximum exposure for all levels of the American Soccer Pyramid without YOU. Until next time, Stay Loyal, Support Local.
Read last weeks interview: The Christos Way: Jody Haislip of Christos FC