"Grassroots soccer is the best soccer there is in my opinion."
Today's interview is brought to you by SoccerElf.com. SoccerElf.com is a brand new website dedicated to helping people all across the United States find the nearest pick up game. If you can't find one near you, guess what? You can create one. Right now, it's still the early stages, so AP has partnered with them to help get the word out, get more people on the site, and get more games going everywhere! The more chances to play, the more people will play. And the more people who play, the more the game grows.
Welcome back to AP readers! What an interesting week for soccer. Solidarity payment lawsuits in the US, Portugal waiting until the Semifinals of the Euro to actually win a game outright. This week interview is also interesting.
I actually encountered Essex County FC while interviewing another team in Massachusetts. I reached out to them, and we were able to do an interview covering grassroots soccer, playing 'Total Football,' and the importance of having a right hand man. Check it out.
Well lets start off simple. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Essex County FC.
My name is Jon Langlois. I am from Lynn, Massachusetts and I am the CEO of Essex County FC.
What's the story behind the creation of Essex County FC? Especially the name and logo, those are both really nice, and stand out quite a bit.
Well me and my partner, Tim Melican, both come from former teams. Tim created Greater Lowell United, in the NPSL, I came from creating my own amateur club, FC Lynn, where I partnered with Mass United FC, currently competing in the ASL where I was director of game day operations,moving all the way up the ladder to General Manager of the club which had 5 teams at the time.
We both left our respected clubs and met up and decided that Massachusetts soccer needed something different, something bigger, something better. So we got together brainstormed a bit and decided to launch a men's amateur. Successfully getting that off the ground we decided we would launch youth training. We successfully held our first clinic and have another setup with former Wales International and West Ham United player, Jack Collison.
After planning these we decided we needed a women team which kicked off June 13th. We are Essex County FC because that is where we are located Essex COUNTY is the county in which we target. The logo was created since Tim and myself felt we were renegades of the game. Leaving our clubs to start our own just seemed fitting to call ourselves "Renegades" and instead of going the typical cowboy look with the bandanna over his face we went a more daring route, and let's be honest what's more bad ass than a Indian on a wild horse wielding a spare!
That's probably one of the more eye catching parts of the logo, the spear wielding, horse back riding Indian. What got you interested in working in soccer, and starting a team in particular?
I have always loved the game. Played since I was very young, all through high school until a bad injury sidelined me from playing in college (Dean College). I got back into playing Co Ed but felt I needed more competition. I started FC Lynn back in 2009 but once again was sidelined due to a bad knee injury. I then decided it was time to hang em up and pick up the clipboard and whistle. Tim on the other hand became obsessed later in life, while watching English Soccer and decided he NEEDED TO bring that level of play and team support to America
Man, it's always the knee injury that gets you. Once you get them, you can't them. What kind of things did you learn from starting FC Lynn and working your way up through Mass United FC? Kind of like the most important do's and don't's with a team.
Always helps to have money. Sponsors and supporters are a huge help. Without the people standing behind you helping you make it all work, it won't happen. I credit my wife more than she knows. She has been my back bone through almost 10 years of this. Without her support I wouldn't be where I am today. Players is another key player in the game. You need to reach outside your normal comfort zone. It's OK to have your friends play but like the old saying goes never mix business with pleasure, especially at the lower levels when your charging people to play.
Through the Mass United years I became very familiar with operating higher level teams, International clearances, registering players and dealing with the higher ups of the higher leagues and dealing bigger sponsor and partnership deals, if you don't ask, they won't help.
And always have a right hand! My right hand, aside from my wife, has been a guy I met in the second year of FC Lynn's existence. His name is Archie Bandera, a Zimbabwean living in Lynn. The guy has been through it all with me. FC Lynn, Mass United and now ECFC. I ask a lot of him and he never says no and always delivers!
There's something not a lot of people have touched on, having a good right hand man. Very little in this world can be done alone. Let's talk about sponsorship's for a second. Walk me through the process of securing a sponsor.
It's really a lot of work. You need to take in consideration your market, who your are targeting crossed with who your potential Sponsor targets and really hope it's a good fit. Then putting a value on your product, how many followers do you have, how many different avenues you can ust to reach said followers and how you engage in them. Take that with how many players you have multiplied by family members. Say you have 21 adult men players all in the age of 21 to 25 you can say each player has 2 parents, maybe a sibling and or a wife and maybe a young child. Pretty decent market. Then you need to take into consideration the valuation of how much they give you divided by what it's going to cost you to market said sponsor. It really is more than putting a number on a piece of paper. More and more business want to know own how they are going to Make their money back
How important have your sponsors been to the team in terms of financial support? I was reading Money and Soccer over the winter, and that book really stresses the need to pursue and have sponsors for everything. It still boggles my mind that none of the amateur leagues in the US have gone out and gotten a sponsor for the league as a whole.
You are right, sponsors really are the back bone to your project big or small. Us running a smaller outfit in terms of division in us soccer we have our players pay a player fee to the club. This fee helps keep the club a float. However, without sponsorship money the club cannot operate. Not just sponsorship money either, I have in the past offered free fitness training where I have partnered with gyms and personal trainers, I have offered free athletic evaluations through physical therapy offices and doctors. There is more to a sponsor than just their money, if they feel you need them in terms of what their business offers, they may be more apt to give you services and throw you a few bucks as well.
So that would be something more akin to an exchange of goods than something more clear cut like a jersey sponsorship?
Yes and no. It's always good have cash on hand. However if you have a team that clearly needs fitness then an exchange of services with someone who could help is clearly the better option. However, not all places will work a deal like that, tends to be more work on the club end since exchange of services tends to be WORTH more and really need to sell those. Picture it, an average personal trainer charges roughly $60/hr, your getting 2 2 hour sessions for 20 players a week for say 6 weeks, talking well over $3,000. That's why pretty big chunk of change, especially for a lower division (amateur) team.
That's a great point. Let's circle back to Essex County. Where exactly is Essex County in Massachusetts, and what does the soccer scene there look like?
Essex County is north of Boston, up almost to Gloucester, Lowell, it's actually pretty big. Soccer in my opinion in Massachusetts is HUGE! The soccer scene in our area for adults is pretty popular, very rich in different ethnic backgrounds. Youth soccer is huge, did you know Massachusetts and North Texas Youth associations flip flop back and forth every couple years in the LARGEST youth soccer associations in America. That's pretty intense.
Really? I had no idea that was the case. Not super surprising when I think about it, there are a lot of ethnic communities in the Boston area. You currently play in the Massachusetts State Soccer League. How does that league work, and what's the standard of play like?
The league has changed from when we first entered in 2009, meaning there were more teams better competition and fifa rules of play. They have since adopted college rules, meaning you sub out in the first half you can't come back in till 2nd half. Also, the team has gone from 20 teams down to about 16. The level of play has declined but it's still a lot of the same teams so either the players have gotten older or have moved on. There used to be promotion relegation but they have dropped below 20 teams and cannot really run it that way anymore so they have went to a North and South division.
How did pro/rel work when they did have 20 teams? Where there other leagues below the MSSL, and why doesn't it work anymore?
There were 20 teams, D1 and D2. Best 2 would go up and worst 2 would go down. Now that there is only 16 teams, wouldn't make sense to have just a division with 8 teams.
I see, that does makes sense. How did actually having pro/rel, even if just for a state league, make things different? Was there more of a feeling of every game counts then there is now?
Absolutely, you felt as if you were playing for something other than a trophy and a purse. Especially in 2nd division. You not only got the trophy and the cash for winning the division but you were also promoted to play with, at the time, the best amateur teams in the state. 1st division always had the best teams so it made every game that much more competitive just to stay above the relegation zone.
Made everybody step up their game then?
Absolutely. More effort at practice, more effort at the game. Especially since games were limited to just 7 subs a game opposed to college rules. Once your off your off so only the best players really would play and made the others work harder for a spot.
Interesting. Confirms what a lot of people are saying is wrong with the current national setup. Back to the current version of the MSSL, how would you describe the level and quality of play?
The quality of play has definitely diminished. I mean there are still a few teams left that are top notch, Boston Olympiakos, Albania United and Southie FC, all three high level and all very respectable teams. Especially Southie who just finished up their US Open Cup run against the USL Pro Champions Rochester Rhinos. I tip my hats to those guys. But as stated before, the quality is still there, just not as tough.
Is that because of the teams the league lost, like Mass United?
Mass united is back in. However they have put so much time and effort into the ASL, they forfeit a lot of games. They are not even a competitor in this league really.
That's both good and bad to hear I suppose. Good they're back in, bad they're not competitive. Let's get back to Essex County though. Where are you hoping to see the team in 5 years?
Where to begin?
We can break it down a little first. Where would you like the team to be in two years?
Well we are working towards a goal. We have the men's and women's amateur, currently building a youth academy. And we are hoping within 2 years to have an NPSL/PDL Team.
How does building a youth academy change how you plan for the men's team?
The youth academy allows for us to build on a path. We train all the kids how we want them to play, essentially groom the players to play for us down the road.
Is there a particular style of play you're trying to teach them?
I have been coaching youth for about 3 years now. My preferred style of play is the Dutch style. This teaches the kids that all positions are important and that it is very important to know all aspects of the game. Defenders defend, offense attacks and goalie protects the goal. But at the same time defenders should also know how to attack and be ready to adjust formation at any time, same with the offense. However where we are just beginning our academy we have a few aces up our sleeve so our style may adjust a little.
Don't seem to run into much Dutch style here in the US. I remember Toronto FC tried, then gave up pretty quick. What drew you to coaching the Dutch style?
I focus primarily on younger kids. My son started playing at age 4. Kids don't always seem to.understand the positions. So I brought it upon myself to teach the kids that I coached that every position is important. When I coach intend to allow the kids (I currently coached 7 and 8) play the positions they prefer but during the game shift the formation different ways to adapt to the play. It's tough at this age but in my opinion if you start them young, it's a lot easier for them to understand and execute when it really counts for them. Go figure, my son now plays goalie full time.
That actually sounds like a great idea. Focusing more on how to play rather then trying to make them into specialists at any one position. It's like how they coached my brothers YMCA team, but you're doing it on purpose. Ready for some more short form questions to wrap this up?
Go for it.
What is your favorite league and or team to watch?
To be completely honest, I just like watching the game, Bundesliga, MLS, EPL, LA LIGA, SERIE A, LIGUE 1 even the central American leagues I watch. So I guess you could say I don't really have a favorite league. As for team... that's tough because again, I watch as much as possible. It may sound very "American" but I try to never miss a Revs game. My son is a big Revs fan so we usually take in a few games together at the stadium and watch them together.
Nothing wrong with that. I try to catch Sporting games whenever I can. Now, favorite players. One past, one present.
Well, I'm a keeper so I'd have to say my favorite CURRENT player is Guillermo Ochoa. He just makes it look so easy, and his hair is always on point. Past? Can I say Jack Collison, since we are working with him for up coming camp? Maybe get a few perks? But no I like Zidane, he was a bad ass. That's how I like my games played: physical!
Ochoa was a beast at the last World Cup. What's your favorite book, soccer related or otherwise?
I don't read a lot, unless it's a book about conditioning and skills drills. Everyone once in a while I like to read Money Magazine and Inc.
Oh those are good choices. Would you rather: go to a World Cup, or go to the Euros?
World Cup. My favorite team other than the USA is the Netherlands, that would be my only chance to see them play each other.
Fair point, though that means you'd have to travel to Russia, which sounds like a bummer. Last question, give you a chance for a closing remark. Why you should people reading this go out and support their local team, like Essex County?
Simple, why not? Seriously, I mean lower level soccer gets a bad stigma about it. Poor play, low numbers bad fields, etc. No one ever talks about the good stuff in the lower leagues. Think about it, young players who know the game who WANT to be the next Messi, the next Ronaldo! Grassroots soccer is the best soccer there is in my opinion. These players aren't getting paid, don't have all the pressure of the media and hundreds of thousands of people in the stands and on TV. They can just go out, be themselves and play the game. I've seen some of the best games at this level! In addition, the best part is its FREE! Where else can you go to watch 2 quality teams battle it out for free?
Another note, a lot of these teams now a days are playing in turf stadiums and refurbished facilities. The cities need the money so they all rent out space to local teams. Gives the feel of the "BIG GAME" without necessarily all the distraction of the fanfare. So with that said, make sure you follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @EssexCountyFC. We have men's, women's and kids teams. Visit our website for schedules at www.essexcountyfc.com and check out American Pyramid Blog for more info on the greatest game on the planet!
Jon, thanks for taking the time to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the content I'm putting out, I'd encourage you to click here to Follow me on Twitter, or here to Like the page on Facebook. And if you'd like to read these interviews before everyone else, and make sure you aren't missing anything, click here and sign up for the newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road. 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.
Click Here to read 'Local Club: Santiago Rodriguez Rey of Greater Lowell United'