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.
This installment sees us chatting with Cody Bromley from the Tulsa Roustabouts, SG for, no prizes for guessing, the Tulsa Roughnecks, coming out of the USL. You can catch him on the Tulsa Soccer Show, talking about all things soccer in the Tulsa area.
Gentle introduction, just tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you came to love soccer
I started playing soccer at the age of 5. It was my first introduction to playing organized sports, and what I lacked in talent and skill I made up for in an eagerness to run wildly and eat snacks. I played it for about three season before permanently retiring from the sport.
Fast forward to 2006 and the World Cup in Germany. That summer I didn't have a job and my computer was busted so I ended up watching a lot of TV. In between Boy Meets World marathons on ABC Family, I spent the end of June watching the United States soccer team just get smashed and finish last in their group. This kind of thing might send other fans fleeing for something better to do with their time, but miraculously my spirits were not dampened at all. I even went out and got the official FIFA World Cup 2006 video game and led the USA to no less than 10 world cup finals wins later that summer. I can still hear the commentary in the back of my head as I dribbled the ball from Oguchi Onyewu to DaMarcus Beasley then the finish with Landon Donovan. The rush of a goal, the 2006-era graphics that to me felt as real as watching ESPN, it was all spectacular. Also, FIFA World Cup 2006 had a bumpin soundtrack and I still have some of those song's in my music library. I don't care what anyone says, the 2006 World Cup (and it's video game) is what made me a U.S. Soccer fan, and a fan of the sport in general.
Now, I didn't run out and start watching MLS or Premier League, and I also didn't buy another FIFA game until like 6 years later, but it sowed a seed.
In 2010, though I had a job that summer, I still found a way to watch the World Cup using sketchy streams with some friends. More video games like FIFA Street kept me engaged with the sport, and would eventually lead me to playing the regular FIFA franchise where I started following Chelsea in the Premier League. But 2014 pushed me over the line when in the wake of the World Cup I learned that Tulsa was set to be given a franchise in the United Soccer League. I didn't know anything about the USL, the Tulsa Roughnecks history, or quite frankly supporters groups, but when I heard that there was going to be a supporters group for the Tulsa Roughnecks FC I knew it was something I needed to be involved in, and the rest is history.
Boy Meets World is a defining time in so many people's lives. And coupled with FIFA, that's a story that will resonate with the readers, I'm sure. So what did you find when you first rocked up to a match?
It's hard to remember what exactly went through my head the first time I saw my home club play a match. More than anything, my earlier recollections with the team come from standing out in the cold rains of February and March watching preseason matches against small local university teams on high school football fields. There were only six or seven of us, and they all, like me, were stoked beyond measure to see professional soccer come to town. We were treated to close player access very early on.
After one particularly cold and wet pre-season game, then coach David Irving asked us if there was anywhere good to eat around there and if we wanted to go with them. I don't remember what we said, but I'm pretty sure we didn't say TGI Fridays. 30 minutes later, we're crowded in the far corner of a TGI Friday's, sitting with essentially our entire club drinking Tecate and eating "appeteasers".
The first preseason match inside the stadium really paled in comparison to those earlier times, partially because we lost 2-1 after being ahead and it was also our first time to be disappointed by our club. But since disappointment is mostly made up of expectations you probably shouldn't have had in the first place, we were able to move on to face our first season match against cross-state rivals OKC Energy FC. The game finished a draw, but the sellout crowd still made it a magic experience. The crowd was loud, the supporters section was pretty full and our tifo was enormous (a whopping 30 feet by 35 feet). Unfortunately, the Roughnecks have not had anything close to a sell-out crowd since that first match, but that was the moment it all finally hit. I'd spent three months training to be a fan of this club, and now I knew I'd be a fan for life.
That's beautiful! I especially like the bit about disappointment coming from false expectations. Very wise. Certainly player / fan engagement is often cited as one the key identifiers of the "non league experience". How have you found the players react to the Roustabout way of supporting? Have any of them compared you favorably, or unfavorably, to experiences with other SGs?
We support our guys 100 percent on-and-off the pitch but last year, that support was tested hard by having one of the worst seasons in league history. In 2015, a lot of the guys coming into the team had only played collegiate soccer and since soccer is always playing third-fiddle to American football and basketball, these guys weren't too used to have loud and crazy fans screaming their praises. But in short, they loved it.
The rest of the guys who had some pro experience had been playing outside the country in Sweden or other European leagues but the bulk of them were Americans themselves. Those guys might have actually been the ones who warmed to us the most because they recognized the difference between us and supporters abroad. We built a strong bond between that first group of guys, and they built a strong bond with themselves. We were the original group and everyone felt like the spot they were in was built for them. It was the perfect supporter-player relationship.
2016 started strong, building on the backs of the relationships we made with guys led us to believe that 2016 was going to be a stellar year. They'd been texting and tweeting and instagramming more than ever and we were liking and commenting back more than ever. But when the season started to sour, it just seemed that wasn't anything we could do for them that could lift their spirits. While it can be difficult to stand and cheer for 90 minutes for a team that loses 8-1, we found a way to do it week-in-and-week-out. The crowds at the stadium dwindled to a point where we stopped trusting the official attendance numbers. Our own section, once growing and massive was now barely 20 people. It was rough. Fervent supporters who'd once led passionate war cries were now mumbling chants under their breath. It was hard. I don't think I'd wish that feeling on any soccer fan. Well, except those bastards in OKC. Our players were embarrassed by what was happening and began to withdraw themselves. Privately, some of them would tell people how upset they were with what was happening. Others shared cryptic social media messages. It was a hard year and one that we were happy to see end. But as the sun set on 2016, a new day dawns in 2017 and our supporters group yearns for the chance to support again.
After two season, we've seen several very talented players come and go, and the fact that many former players are Facebook friends and love to chat about the league with some of the people in our group I think says a lot about what our group brings. To my knowledge, a player has never unfavorably compared us to another group. I like that. We heard this even during the crap season that was 2016. Players around the league know that the Tulsa Roustabouts don't quit when times get hard.
2016 seems like a horrible year. In your in-no-way-expert opinion, and without wishing to throw anyone under the bus, where did it all go wrong? And what gives you faith that things will better this time round?
When a season goes as poorly as ours did in 2016, it becomes very clear that it's not just one thing causing the problem. That said, perhaps the largest problem might be our club's approach to buying players. The Tulsa Roughnecks FC front office has always been upfront about wanting to build a "budget" team and wanting to find "diamonds in the rough," but last year left us craving cubic zirconia if it meant we didn't get beat five times in a row. We've known from day 1 of our club that the USL had ambitions to be a second division league. Hell, I remember in that very first league match, I actually met, shook hands with, and took a selfie with USL President Jake Edwards. This was supposed to be the start of something big.
For our first season, we built a scrappy, young group of untested college guys (a.k.a cheap) and a lot of them paid a dividend by being better than their perceived value. We missed the playoffs by a single point, but that was a pretty good peg to hang a hat on for a first season club. Essentially, in 2015 we built a club for third division soccer and while we didn't win anything big, it had it's moments and if player chemistry had happened sooner it could have been playoff bound. From all accounts, pretty much every player was on a one-year deal and so heading into 2016 we really had our work cut out for us to build a club, especially with new USL and NASL expansion sides moving into the lower-division player ecosystem. Teams like FC Cincinnati and San Antonio FC ended up having very different seasons, but they made major roster moves almost as soon as they were announced. It was clear that they weren't going to try to build more third-division squads, they were going to build teams worthy of being in the second division.
Tulsa's announcements paled in comparison. Star Forward Sammy Ochoa had really killed it in the offseason by shedding some weight and adding on muscle and stamina, but his apprentice Christian Mata came in worse for wear. You said I didn't have to throw anyone under the bus, but another forward pickup, Kaleemullah Khan, was hyped up to be a major signing but only scored a single goal in 1227 minutes played, which equates to 45 percent of all the minutes played by the club last year and 4 percent of the goals. Kaleem is a perfect case study because he actually came from another USL club, Sacramento Republic, where he had 9 appearances and no goals. Why Tulsa picked up a forward without a positive track record in the league continues to elude me. Kaleem is also one of the least tight-lipped players on social media, and some of the people in our group think he's been dropping hints about returning for Tulsa. I don't want to make it seem like I wouldn't support him if he returned, because I would and I want every player on the Roughnecks to defy expectations and play to the best of their ability, but as an outspoken commentator for Tulsa Soccer Show I have to say that he's the piece of the puzzle I never understood.
Similarly, other returning players just weren't there the way they were in 2015. The 2016 midfield only scored five goals, whereas there were midfielders in 2015 that scored six times. There are other issues that were pretty well known as well, including the fact that the locker room of a team who loses for weeks in a row just isn't a very fun place and doesn't always breed a great "can do" attitude to turn it around easily.
If I can fit one last thing in here, I'd say conditioning as well. Can't even begin to count the number of times we were outrun and outmatched in 2016 because our guys weren't fast enough or strong enough.
Standing in the wreckage of 2016, 2017 has a lot to build on. To many supporters, we'd understand if few, if any, pieces of last year remained on the pitch, but the biggest one was the announcement that David Irving would no longer be the head coach and that former MLS player David Vaudreuil would step into the role. Vaudreuil has an impressive resume including winning the MLS Cup twice and playing under coaches Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley before they coached the USMNT. In the announcement of his hiring, the club commented on his tremendous connection network and was boasting that his relationships would help build a team that wasn't just scrappy, but strong.
The supporters got the first chance to meet Coach Vaudreuil at our holiday party and from the moment he started talking, we were in. Vaudreuil most recently was an assistant coach at the now presumed-defunct Rayo OKC and join in August as a part of staffing changes that helped take the club past expectations to the NASL's semi-finals. We're looking for a U-turn of this scale, and sitting down with Coach Vaudreuil it's clear that he thinks it's possible. The local Manchester United fan group in town, MUFC Tulsa, invited coach out to a watch party and some fans spent most of the game talking with coach about the Roughnecks and what was in store for them this season. So far, it sounds like an affiliation with an MLS club could be on the table, in addition to some more well known players. It's hard to tell, especially because the Tulsa Roughnecks front office is incredibly tight-lipped about any potential announcement before all "i's" are dotted and "t's" are crossed, but as fans we couldn't be more thrilled and we love that our coach is willing to come straight to the people to let us know that big plans are in store. Oh yeah, and we've got a conditioning coach now.
Good grief. Not exactly the sort of apprenticeship you want for your club. I think there is value in the Moneyball approach But it can only work with a semi-coherent scouting network. Building the roster within your means speaks of an astute front office, but that is small consolation when you ship 5 within twenty minutes, right? What can / do the SG do to help with the running of the club? Or do you see yourselves as a separate entity, thrown together for a few weekends in the year?
For better or for worse, the club is the club and we’re the supporters. We will loudly applaud or protest their decisions but I think we understand that the decisions are in fact theirs to be made. Under this model, the front office effectively works for us as they are working hard to earn our money as consumers. If they can’t make a viable product, the whole club dries up. We don’t want that, but we also hope that the ghosts of the Austin Aztex and Wilmington Hammerheads make them understand that being cost-prohibitive won’t pay off in the short-term or the long-term.
That said, would we be interested in a supporter owned club? You’re damn right we would. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a viable option these days, considering only amateur clubs seem to be able to handle that, and one of the more successful iterations of that, Nashville SC, is joining the USL with the supporters’ ownership reduced to a 1 percent equity stake in the team and a voting seat on its board. I’m aware that Seattle Sounders 2 is partially owned by a non-profit trust but I refuse to count it since they’re an MLS B-squad.
In our spare time, we’d rather focus on building the sport of soccer from the grassroots level by creating greater opportunities for all kids to play the sport regardless of their parent’s household income or where they live in the city. This year we partnered with YWCA Tulsa to help renovate an aging, unused baseball field into a playable soccer pitch with new goals and lines and have previously raised scholarship funds for kids to attend soccer camps. It’s projects like these that we think will contribute to the long-term growth of the sport in our area, long-past anything that happens on the pitch this season or any season.
I agree, and it's great when I hear about SGs doing community outreach stuff. It's something that is not so prevalent back in the UK. I have to ask though, with the UK in mind, why you felt the need to formalize at all? Why not just support the club on a match day, and leave it at that? It seems to my eyes to be a very peculiarly American trait ( a commendable one, I should point out)
Honestly never considered it. I joined the group essentially after that base layer had already been set and never questioned it.
Suppose it has something to do with most of us also not having a lot of first-hand experience with UK-style supporters groups as well.
An unthinking automaton eh? Just what The Man wants :) It is in no way a loaded question, just the most striking difference I see between the two cultures. And I wouldn't suggest that the UK-way is either the only or indeed the best way to support. So what does it cost to become a fully fledged member of the Roustabouts? And what benefits does that get me?
Membership in the Tulsa Roustabouts for $10 and it includes a membership card good for a few discounts inside the stadium (thanks to the club) and access to some of our own supporter only parties. It also gives some discounts to our own Tulsa Roustabouts merchandise, including an all new scarf for 2017 that we've yet to unveil. We're hoping to make it so that the scarf will be $15 for members and $20 for non-members.
You guys do love a scarf in US soccer! And how you use the monies raised? I know from my experience that subsidizing away travel was a huge incentive, but that's less of an issue for you guys I suspect.
In 2017, we're probably going to move away from subsidizing away travel instead to offer food at tailgates before matches. Away travel ended up being kind of a mixed bag last year given our unfortunate pitch performance and so we'd rather that money go back to support members a bit more directly and also supporting our efforts in the community.
So you guys do try to get to away games then? You mentioned a rivalry with OKC earlier. Anyone else spring to mind?
OKC is a brisk 75 minute drive, which means you can easily drive back after a match. Unfortunately, no one else is as close. There were different delegations dispatched to San Antonio, St. Louis and Kansas City last year, but the need to spend the night definitely reframes the trip and otherwise adds a lot more responsibility to the leaders of the group than we might be able to actually handle. But even OKC trips proved to be much harder to handle this year, including a financially costly party bus rental that might have permanently put a stop to the practice entirely.
This doesn't mean that the Tulsa Roustabouts won't travel, but it probably means less of us will, and mostly at our own expense.
That sucks. Away days are one the best parts of being a football fan. The distances involved in American soccer are one of the things that worries me about growing the game here. Did you get many coming from visiting teams last season? Easy three points and all that
Oklahoma City fans have been the most consistent, and to their credit have been able to bring at least a good 10-15 people most matches. Most other matches, unless they're just blending in somewhere and we never see them, we don't see any visiting supporters. This year we did have the honor of welcoming some folks from Kansas City, St. Louis, San Antonio and, most surprisingly because of the distance, Sacramento. These groups came in groups of about 5 or so, and we were thrilled to see them out. Those of us that traveled for matches last year have great memories of tailgating with the home supporters before matches and would definitely recommend it to anyone considering it.
Yeah, lower league camaraderie is a wonderful thing. Why should anyone make the effort to come out to Tulsa then? Football aside, what else can you offer me for a weekend?
The best person to answer this question would be @matthewb76. He's a UK-transplant and St. Louligan, but he's said on numerous occasions that Tulsa is the best away trip in the USL. To paraphrase his words, with great bars and entertainment walking distance from hotels and the stadium it's an easy win.
I know Matt. He's on my list of folk to chat with. Just keen to get some US views before we start waxing lyrical about pies and chips and warm beer. What's the match day routine for you?
Get a pack of cold ones, drive down to the tailgate spot, hang out and grill out, march into the stadium, stand and sing for 90 minutes, celebrate at a bar down the street with three points in hand.
So not something you did too much last season then? Do the Roustabouts have any particular stand-out chants?
At the start of the 83' we sing: "Na, Na, Na, Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na Eighty Three!" It's a tribute to the Tulsa Roughnecks who played in the old NASL who took home the league title in 1983.
Thank god you have taken the time to be creative. So many rent-a-chants doing the rounds these days. Don't suppose there's video footage of that anywhere is there?
OK, I hate to introduce this so late in the day, but we need to talk about pro/rel. In a season like the one you have just escaped from, you'd have been on the sharp end of things if it was in place. So do you think it's needed or wanted at your level?
It's tough. I know I definitely can't and won't speak for everyone in our group on this subject, but I'm of the belief that Pro/Rel is something that is merely different rather than better. Without TV money, I'm not sure the lower divisions in America will find a difference between the second and third divisions (should one exist again) but in a year where the USL has two clubs cease operations (FC Montreal and Wilmington Hammerheads) it surprises me to think that some people believe in the idea that some teams should be relegated on performance rather than sustainability and that pro/rel would make the sport explode in popularity. To those ideas I just have to strongly disagree. In an alternate reality where Tulsa was relegated to a division lower than USL, that's a major blow against the franchise itself and it's my belief that many casual fans would be lost in the process. We know full well that USL player salaries are not excessively expensive for the clubs, so a club can't have a whole lot of room in the budget to let attendance figures slide too much. Additionally, if Tulsa was relegated away from playing the teams that are currently close to it, that means going against even smaller markets, which will draw fewer fans and continue to exacerbate the ticket revenue issue even further. Similarly, I'm not sure promoting a NPSL or PDL squad into the USL solves an existing problem. Those squads are regularly trounced in Open Cup play, and I can't imagine they'd instantly have the resources to afford regular flights across the continent to go play in Vancouver or Rio Grande simply because they'd be playing supposedly stronger opponents. Again, without TV money, with what new income will a promoted club have to build their next level team? A path to promotion may be a great idea for some successful clubs, but in the fickle and unforgiving place where American soccer is right now relegation is signing a death warrant.
"Different rather than better". That's a very interesting position. Seems to me that pro/rel would be a better fit for baseball right now, given the proliferation of both non-league facilities and talent. Not that the system is set up that way, I appreciate. So do you think there needs to be more clubs at the foot of the pyramid in order for the system to work? Which is Catch 22, since there is a finite market right now
In my opinion, there are several major gaps need to be closed to make Pro/Rel work. The skill and financial gaps between MLS and lower division soccer are enormous, as they are between USL/NASL and semi-pro "non-division" soccer. While I'm not sure I can come up with a solution for the financial side, the skill gap seems to be one that can be solved in years, not decades and is one that U.S. Soccer is intently focused on by working to improve technical competency in the sport starting at the youth level.
I believe that a good football pyramid is only as strong as it's lowest division. One doesn't have to be a holy man to know it's unwise to build a house on sand, but given the fragile nature of the current NASL, and lower division soccer in the last decade, it feels to me like instituting Pro/Rel in the current soccer climate is akin to building a house on top of sand and praying it doesn't rain.
God it's good to hear some considered thoughts on the subject!! It's easy to think those at the top are 100% opposed, and everyone else is 100% for. Who knew there'd be nuance? Have you seen the "manifesto" Peter Wilt just released?
Been reading it this afternoon. It has to be the most level-headed, well thought piece on the subject I've ever read. His "Best Way" of events is one I could get behind.
Yeah, is very considered. Hopefully the conversation can move on from this point in a more productive and convivial way. I think we're pretty much done, for now bud. Just a couple of genetic questions to tie things up. Do you follow any non-American clubs, and if so how did you end up following them?
I follow Chelsea in the EPL. I mentioned it earlier, but I kind of stumbled across them while getting into playing FIFA back in 2009. Frank Lampard was on the cover of FIFA 10 and I decided I'd pick Chelsea as my squad. I didn't really follow EPL back then for a few reasons: first is that I didn't get the Fox Soccer channel, but I also never woke up before 10 a.m. and I was also too young to watch at a sports bar that could have showed a match. I should probably also have to mention that my casual interest was also so low that I don't think I even considered watching. However, I added Chelsea to my http://ESPN.com favorite teams and would regularly see news and highlights from them pop-up online. Lucky for me, Chelsea would win it all in 09/10 and my somewhat-bandwagon fandom was born. I've become a much better fan since then, including becoming an official, card-carrying "True Blue" member of Chelsea and the official USA supporters group Chelsea in America. My favorite kit I own is a 2015/2016 third kit with Matt Miazga's (first American to play for Chelsea) name and number on it. I've had the honor of seeing them play once (in Washington D.C. during Guinness International Champions Cup in 2015) and had plans to see them in Stamford Bridge this year that unfortunately fell through. But through it all, I feel that watching Chelsea helped me understand a lot more of the intricacies to the game that I hadn't learned as a kid, and helped me be a better fan of my local club. So, while I'll always keep the blue flag flying high for Chelsea, they will always reside in my heart below the US National Soccer teams and the Roughnecks. Put another way, country over club, and club over bandwagon.
FIFA is the gateway drug for so many Americans. I don't think anyone can blame you for coinciding your fandom with their rise to the to table, can they? No, my mistake, we absolutely can! The hype about Miazga seems to have died down a bit. Is he still a thing? Have you read any books or listened to any podcasts in your quest to broaden your footballing horizons?
Miazga is currently on loan playing in the Dutch first level, which is probably for the best. Honestly, I was just happy to see him get some minutes so I didn't have a jersey for a man who never played. Hope he can tighten up his defending game to fill the void JT will leave behind.
Currently reading a borrowed copy of "The Fix" by Declan Hill about the rise of corruption in Association Football. The book came as a strong recommendation from someone I work with who I had know idea loved soccer and it's been a great, if at times thick, read. I'm a weekly listener to the Men in Blazers podcast, and occasionally Alexi Lalas' show if I'm all caught up on podcasts and need something to fill the silence.
I'm also very interested in the new USL Productions produced talk show coming to Sirius XM this year and hope that it's also made available as a podcast.
Yeah, heard great things about The Fix. I want to like Lalas, if just for the way he pokes certain folk on Twitter. But I struggle. Anyway, to close this down, what would you say to someone in the Tulsa area who has never been to Roughnecks game? Why should they come along and watch?
Anyone who has knowledge of the past season is definitely going to be a hard sell, but the change in division status for the USL is definitely going to the raise the level of play in the league and Tulsa Roughnecks FC is a part of that. Also, the Tulsa Roughnecks FC are now the highest division professional sports team in town (Tulsa's baseball and hockey teams both play in leagues two levels lower than their major league equivalents). Our home stadium offers great food and beer and and we as Roustabouts are convinced that coming to a match this season is the best way in town to spend 90 minutes.
Magic. If people want to find out more, where can they find you and the Roustabouts?
http://TulsaRoustabouts.com, Facebook.com/TulsaRoustabouts and on Twitter @troustabouts. I'm on twitter at @codybrom.
And on match days, where can you be found?
On match days, we're at the corner of Elgin and Archer in Downtown Tulsa, starting 3 hours before kickoff.
Getting them in early, eh? Nice work. Cody, it's been an absolute joy. Thank you. Remember, if you are enjoying the weekly content coming out on AP you can Follow AP on Twitter, or Like AP on Facebook. And if you want make sure you never miss an interview, and want to read articles before everyone else, 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.
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