"All you need is a field and some goals!"
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Hello again everyone and welcome back to AP! I want to first off say 'thank you' to the incredibly patient guys at Keene FC. This interview has been done for several weeks, but to due to the number of finished interviews, this is where it fell on the release schedule. Conveniently enough, the week of their first ever game!
I also wanted to remind everyone to support AP on Patreon. We are two Patrons at $1 a month away from bringing back the AP Power Rankings, complete with a trophy for the team that finishes in first place! Again, that's two Patrons at $1 a month. That's one less candy bar a month, if candy is your thing. You can become a Patron by Clicking Here.
Now, without further ado, Matt Kahla and Brentt Miller of Keene FC. Check it out.
Tell readers a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Keene FC?
Matt Kahla, Jr. I am the co-owner with Brentt Miller of Keene FC, but focusing on Business Development and Marketing side of running Keene FC. Born and raised in the Dallas Fort Worth Area.
And I'm Brentt Miller. I take care of the Operations, personnel and compliance. Born in Kansas and raised in Chico Texas.
How did you come to be a fan of soccer, and what got you interested in starting a team?
MK: It's actually a funny story for how I became a fan of soccer, after growing up in the DFW area and wanting to get away I moved to Hawaii where I met my now fiance, she is Portuguese so obviously me coming from Texas I loved American Football, but she opened my eyes up to soccer. I got to watch her play see America play in 2014. So I can definitely credit her with getting me into soccer. After that, I started to delve into why American soccer just isn't taking off and talking to a lot of people about it and figured out pretty quickly that it starts with local soccer. So I started doing Marketing with a few teams until I got to PDL where I did all the Marketing in 2017 for the PDL side of FC Cleburne and met Brentt around that time so we started bouncing ideas off each other.
What's the 'origin story' behind Keene FC?
BM: What sparked our interest in starting a team were the countless conversations about missing the World Cup, the lack of a farm system for Soccer and tons of marketing opportunities people were passing over.
At this time we were watching FC Cleburne when they were playing the OKC Energy and it was around the time they made it on ESPN’s top 10. FC Cleburne had a venue change to Keene with three days notice. We put our heads together and were able to get about 350 people there!
We felt like we could exceed those efforts and Keene fit into our idea of what a soccer community could be.
Matt, you've already had experience working within the PDL, so what caused you to decide to put Keene FC in the UPSL, especially with other options like the NPSL and Texas Premier Soccer League?
MK: I was a fan of the UPSL before I even thought of bringing a team into the league, the pro/rel model that California has going is changing the game I think. But because I was a fan and found out that they were looking for a Conference Manager (someone who helps set up the teams in the Texas division) and I got about 8 teams into it before after discussing it with Brentt and pondering "What if we brought a team into the league as well?" That thought started to turn into reality as I continued talking to other teams and gaining fast traction in the UPSL. When FC Cleburne played in Keene that's when an a Pipedream started, but with all the opportunities that came after it became an easier reality.
Having someone like Brentt come in and just get things done has been such a blessing, because if we want something done I know Brentt can get it done. As far as looking into the other leagues, well like I said I set up teams for the UPSL so obviously, I believe in it. I think people will be surprised at the level of play in the UPSL.
BM: When you work with small tight knit communities, you find it easier to break through the red tape! Keene ISD, City Hall, and the Chamber of Commerce have been nothing but helpful and approachable to solving any issues we have had. Same goes for UPSL, from the moment we stepped in the league everyone was helpful and quick to resolve any issues we have had. I think that is why you are seeing an influx of teams moving to the UPSL, it definitely operates like a community. I am more apt to get on the phone or send an email to Dustin at OKC 1889 or Mario from FW Inocentes and help each other out with issues or help find a player a team to get on!
The UPSL is really booming in your area. Any guess on how long it will be before we see promotion and relegation start in Texas?
MK: Honestly with how many teams are wanting to be apart of what UPSL is doing here in Texas I think it will be here around this time next year if not a little bit later. Teams are excited about the prospect of getting in and having every match mean something. Competition is huge in Pro/Rel in the UPSL and if you look at how California and even Colorado, they are doing it the right way. We know that is something we can also achieve in Texas!
What can you guys tell me about Keene, Texas? Not really a town that jumps out at people and screams 'soccer team here!'
MK: I think because they have had a huge soccer boom within the community, and how we have it laid out with our Marketing and local outreach that we will achieve great things in Keene. At this time of the writing, I think what you will see by the end of the season is a community coming together for not only the love of the game but because its something they can show up to and support.
BM: Southwestern Adventist University has attracted a diversity you do not see in a lot of small towns. I think if you took a poll of the residents and students you would find that a majority of them grew up playing the sport and would eventually like to see there children have better access to the sport as well. With that being said there are under 7,000 people that live in Keene. We could not be more excited!
Since Texas is such a huge state, what UPSL teams are close to you, and who do you expect will become rivals with Keene FC?
BM: The rival questions is always tricky, we have a lot of respect for Fort Worth Inocentes they have history dating back to the late 70's in Mexico and Mario Alcala's organization are doing a lot of good things for the community. They are creating some great opportunities for players in the Fort Worth Area. OKC 1889 will be interesting, they have ties to the OKC Energy and FC Wichita and we expect the talent from those teams to be very high. Basically we are 3-4 hours away from the other 7 teams, I would suspect by next year we will have at least 30 teams in Texas alone and more in Oklahoma.
Our major rival is a PDL team named FC Cleburne one town over. We have been in constant contact with them and look forward to see if we can get this potential great rivalry going. But we are diligently trying to stay in communication with them about this possible match.
What has the response from the local community towards the team been like so far?
BM: There was some confusion at first about the organization in general but after meeting with City Hall, the Chamber of Commerce and meeting some of the businesses we are starting to get a huge push from the community. In April and May we will be having free skills training for the kids in the area and help to familiarize the players with the community they are playing for. This will give the players even more motivation to represent the city.
Where do you guys hope to see the club in the next three to five years?
MK: With any club you want growth, passionate fans, and avenues to grow outward. When we labeled Keene FC the name of the town we knew where this club was staying. So we are growing inward and working our way outward, we know Keene has a lot of big potential!
With that said its about starting with the kids, opening clinics and eventually an academy with kids, we are very lucky that Keene is providing us the avenue to do all of this, they are really an unofficial partner with all of this. We know a lot of the city members personally through opening up Keene FC and we are really grateful.
BM: Year 1 (Grow the Brand, inward-out) and develop the relationship with the community. Not just "liking and sharing" social media, getting out and recognizing your community, connecting with the youth in the area and tightening down the mechanics of operating a successful club.
From a Personnel standpoint our mission is to take our players that are out of college and place them in Combines in hopes of playing professional soccer overseas or here in the states. Coach Ebby FowoBaje currently has 3 players overseas in Portugal and Africa.
Our goal for College players is to help keep there legs stay fresh through out the summer months. We had a great group of players drive from West Texas A&M and East New Mexico University that shined at our last tryouts.
Year 2-3 - A PRO-REL system in place which we will be reaching out on how to make that happen. We would like to have at least 3 players with PRO contracts, an established academy, as well as a partnership as a feeder team for a USL or MLS team.
Year 4-5 We would like to have our own Soccer specific facility to host games and partner with other teams in the area.
Are there any clubs out there that you're taking bits and pieces from as you form Keene FC? Basically, are there any clubs you look at as role models for your club?
BM: Matt and I talk about the OKC Energy quite a bit and how deeply they are embedded into the community. I think the model to emulate, is that of the OKC Energy because it is not just a team on the field playing good soccer, it is an organization that is drawing in the community and the youth. That is the club that we look at that has some history and we see huge strides being made. Seeing that progress from Texas says something about the organization.
This is a tough questions for us because we are working backwards. Bringing a team to Keene and then building up the youth organizations from there. Although Jonathan and the Bugeaters arrived on the scene like gangbusters and I have really enjoyed watching what they are bringing to Nebraska.
MK: We always talk about what clubs are making waves, but making waves for us can be different. We love to see how the Marketing is coming together for a Semi Pro team. A perfect example is the Nebraska Bugeaters with Jonathan Collura, he is doing it right. Community/Marketing and making impacts in the area's he is focusing in. Brentt and me and all the management think that you have to work from the inside out, so that's our goal. We can have a great following if the fans from Keene and smaller surrounding cities get into it and we can also deliver quality matches but its really up the community. I think if you talk to Brentt and me we pride ourselves on our Marketing ability and reaching out to fans via social media and subscriptions via sign ups. So there are alot of clubs we like to look to for ideas, La Wolves, OKC 1889, Inocentes, Samba, La Maquina, Orange County FC, to name a few!
What are one or two things you hope to accomplish, on or off the field, that you can look back on at the end of the year and consider 2018 a success?
BM: We like to make aggressive goals that will challenge and test our organization. This year we became the first American Sports team to be sponsored by a cryptocurrency (DIMECOIN). That was a nice accomplishment from a marketing standpoint and Matt worked incredibly hard to secure that.
The 3 goals we plan on meeting by the end of the season
1. Create an Adult and Youth Recreational organization for the City of Keene.
2. Have a plan to implement a PRO/REL system
3. We have a few players that we would like to help get PRO contracts and into combines.
Are there any players on the team currently that you think fans of non league soccer should be keeping an eye on?
MK: I think this goes to what Brentt and I do best and that is to get great people that are coaches and talent scouts. We have a great Coach with Coach Ebby who runs the tryouts with our GMs help Cody Long, and if you asked them each guy on the roster would have a saying from them about what to look out for, but we are hands off when it comes to talent. We want whats best for the team and having Coach Ebby and GM Long on that aspect gives us peace in mind that the right players are getting the right fit. But ask us this question mid-season and I am sure Brentt and I will have a few ideas.
Let's wrap this up with some short questions. What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
MK: My fiance being Portuguese, I think this is an easy one, it's easy for me to watch her excitement towards Ronaldo and the National team of Portugal. I can really get into the excitement. Going to Portugal and just seeing how much soccer is appreciated and the games and the smaller clubs are appreciated makes me root alot more for lower division soccer than anything else in America. You have to have a sort of scrappiness to make it in the lower leagues.
BM: The leagues I watch the most of are Bundesliga matches and Liga MX. Dortmund Borussia / Schalke and Club America / Tigres are the matches I like to keep up. Also I need to mention all Coach Ebby watches is Chelsea!
Favorite soccer players, one past, one present.
MK: I think this is a very tough answer for me. I think the biggest impact wise, organization wise and not player wise would be the Dallas Sidekicks, I remember being young and watching them on the now-defunct UPN 21 and always being excited about soccer. Watching Tatu as the Coach and seeing all the highlights in the infancy of Internet as him playing was always a joy.
BM: Favorite player from the past is Vinnie Jones and my current favorite player is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I enjoy the aggressive play and I think pushing your opponent to the brink of fisticuffs is exciting. Sometimes it does take away from the beauty of the game but it seems like that type of pressure brings out a different type of competitive nature.
Last thing Matt and I discuss is how you are either a Messi fan or a Ronaldo fan, with that being said Messi all day!! I'm sure you can guess who Matt likes.
Do you have any books or podcasts, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend to people reading this?
MK: Obviously the number one podcast we follow is the UPSL Podcast, The Football Weekly, and Men in Blazers, and I am sure Brentt has more to add to the list. I think searching for things, researching the new teams that are coming out in the 2nd Division and so forth, keeping your ear to the ground and taking the best ideas and putting your own spin on them is huge.
So many great Marketing books out there just look on Amazon, but a few I have liked and read in Digital Form, Guide to Sports Marketing, Strategic Sports Marketing, The TenX Rule.
BM: Men in Blazers, UPSL Pocast, and Joe Rogan Podcast. These are the only 3 podcast I have time to listen too and my "suggested reading material" would be the War of Art by Steven Pressel. I don't think I would have been able to help create this team if it wasn't for this book!
Where can people find out more about you and the team online?
We will also be streaming all of our HOME games via https://mycujoo.tv
What would you say to someone asking you why they should get out there and support their local non-league team, like Keene FC?
MK: In order for American soccer to grow I think its big to support your local league as well as your local club. If all you can get close to you is UPSL, PDL, NPSL, the best support is to show up, buy season tickets, take friends, expose them to some soccer, and if you have gone to the big league games, than be apart of the local club supporters group or start one. I guarantee you the local clubs are easier accessible than division 1 and 2, and you will have a fun time getting to know the owners, the coaches and the players. We strive off of support and friendly fan interaction. A lot of the local clubs depend on that support and are doing it for the love of the game, and to get local guys to the next level.
BM: I think that Matt has covered everything pretty well, that last thing I would add to this is the following: Find a local soccer organization and volunteer to Ref or Coach some of the youth. Put a team together and go play indoor or outdoor soccer somewhere, if you don't have one in your area then start one. Matt and I have said all along "All you need is a field and some goals!"
Matt, Brentt, 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: Military Soccer: Kyle Furfari of Bragg FC