"We want to provide opportunity!"
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A lot has been happening for you since we last talked. Joined UPSL, the fight to find a field, all while working on a complete player pathway. Walk us through some of the biggest changes for Lowcountry United. How have you made all this come together?
With lots of caffeine!
But yeah you're right, so much has changed in a short period of time for us. The progression of the club is just non-stop & it's truly fantastic to be a part of.
The biggest changes for Lowcountry is the official announcement of the Lowcountry United Development Academy, this addition to the club was part of the long term plan that I promised in order to provide a defined path for local players. I want to ensure that we build Lowcountry United to be an integral part of areas soccer community regardless of what age group you're looking at. Lowcountry exist in order to provide opportunity, to develop players, progress and prepare them for the next step.
We are beginning to see some success with our development players who are making their competitive debuts at a high level & really performing. We have seen this in our recent games against Georgia Revolutions, Atlanta Silverbacks & Savannah Clovers.
However, it's been business as usual for the club on everything else, we have a real defined system of operations within the club. Myself, Coaches & Squad Captains we all work really well together to keep the wheels turning. There always have a lot on our plates but we are just continuing to try to enjoy every minute of it.
Caffeine always helps! Let's go through this a little bit at a time. How did the decision to join UPSL come about, and what did that process look like from start to finish? I'm really curious about what it looks like for a team to join a national league.
The decision to join the UPSL came out of the decision & need to bring semi pro soccer to the Lowcountry. There wasn't any additional opportunities in the Lowcountry for players to progress and compete at higher levels, to have opportunities to be on a semi pro stage and compete for club and community. We have great local youth academies, quality high school & college programs, and the pro USL club the Charleston Battery. Who filled the gap there though? The Link in the chain of semi-professional club in Charleston? None were available, so no better club to do than the orange & black.
I worked tirelessly to know everything and anything about the requirements, the rules, the competition, the growth, the future plans, etc. on all semi-pro/ pro development leagues. It came down to the NPSL & UPSL. I really began to determine what capacity we at a grassroots level had to join with the NPSL. I loved the league and the quality of soccer it has but we were not ready to pay the expansion fees at that time. The UPSL was yet to really take off here in the Southeast with FC Cardinals being the only team outside of the Florida conference. I saw an opportunity to build something truly amazing here for our community and everything I read and discussed with the UPSL chiefs showed me that it was the right move. We discussed a lot together about what I wanted to bring to the table, how I wanted to ensure that this club never lost the focus on community, opportunities and overall progression. I wanted to ensure we used this as a way to progress our community with working with the local soccer league, city recreation departments, South Carolina Soccer Association, colleges etc. to join this vision and build a flagship east coast club of the UPSL. The UPSL league commissioner fully supported my vision and was willing to help and connect me with the correct people and it truly was the right decision. So much support and collaboration among the UPSL clubs & executives.
You had some real trouble finding a place to call home. How long did you look for a place to play, and how did you finally find a place to call home?
Surprisingly we still do not have an official home. I have been working on securing a home venue for a year and a half now.
We have not been doing all these away games because we like traveling, we want nothing more than to have a place that we can call home. Unfortunately we haven’t found anyone who is willing to change the status quo of soccer in the Lowcountry and see the value in what we are building.
I have contacted every youth soccer club, every private soccer field, college, every county & city recreation department as well as the 3 large school districts in the Lowcountry which have probably a combined total of 130 or more fields/stadiums between them all and everyone has denied us, charge a ridiculous hourly rate like $1,600 per hour (yes you read that correctly) or just flat out ignore us.
We got at one point a local Charleston County High School in an underserved area of North Charleston to support what we were bringing to the table to partner with us on reinvesting out club into helping their school and surrounding community but as soon as we announced our official UPSL expansion in March the School District cancelled that agreement. Now I am continuing to try to secure a field with Charleston County School District and they tell me they can't schedule long term rentals, or the dates too far out or something like that. It’s a never ending back and forth, but I haven’t given up. Have continued to work constantly to talk to people.
Hopefully some things I'm working on with some affiliation agreements here in the local area will help us put an end to this problem and allow us to share resources with other like minded clubs.
You mentioned the launch of the Lowcountry United Development Academy. What does this Academy do for the team, and how long have you been working on it?
Been working on the development academy since October 2016. It's been ongoing since January 2017. It really took off when Coach Caratella & Coach Barlotta came aboard. They have a lot of connections within the local youth academy landscape. They have been instrumental in generating the interest in the academy. It will provide over time we hope a platform of identification and opportunity for players to compete at a quality club academy level with the opportunity to have one club and one path from academy and development up to semi pro competition.
I am working on partnerships with local youth clubs to help facilitate an open system of identification for these area youth players to facilitate the opportunity they need to showcase themselves and progress to D1 colleges, pro academy opportunities or wherever the path they choose is headed.
We want to provide opportunity!
I know you've mentioned that Lowcountry exists because of the need to bridge the gap in development, but where did your desire to create opportunity come from? Why is that such a big part of what your club is about?
Because we are about our community and those we do all this for! The academy/club player who is 17 or 18 yrs old and wasn't recruited because he wasn't yet ready, who provides that opportunity for him to develop locally? What about the collegiate player, the young former pro player who didn't get much match time? What about the local quality players who play in our local leagues? Local pick up players who got the raw talent but no one to develop them? All of this comes down to opportunity. Give these players a platform to perform and accomplish the next step and you will see them flourish. #ProgressionIsPowerful
I guess what I'm trying to get at is, was there something in your soccer past that has really pushed you in taking the team this direction?
Nothing specifically in my past. I feel I have been in a good position to observe the Lowcountry and different areas of soccer and identified the issues I feel Lowcountry United can help fix.
Gotcha. Since you're one of a handful of teams in the lower levels with an Academy underneath you that you run and own, is there a particular way you've structured it in terms of age groups and training to maximize the potential of players?
The clubs DA is structured at this time focused more on our U23 program. We have players between the ages of 16-23 under this program. These players train and work hand in hand with our 1st team and club management on all aspects of preparing them physically, mentally, technically & educational. These young home grown talented players are the future of United and hopefully, pro-clubs and USMNT. If we truly focus on providing measurable and meaningful development then we are progressing local players to their full potential.
As far as lower age groups, one big thing that I am working to do is collaborate with our local youth academies to provide the ongoing youth/junior soccer program. Hopefully soon I can announce the official youth partnership that I'm working on with area academies to train & develop these younger players to then identify players to progress to inclusion of our U23 club specific development program. True development comes when the path is clear, the expectations and opportunities are known, there is measurable performance, and proper available competitive opportunities.
So your current development focus is more on the young adult age group?
For the moment yes. However the work going on with the local youth clubs is vital to our academy's initial plan. As we grow the club we will progress the full strategic plan of a full club specific development academy which will work in connection with our area youth academies.
As you look towards Year 1 in the UPSL, what are two or three things you hope to accomplish to consider the first season of league play a success?
In the first season our goals will be to be competitive in the Southeast conference and make playoffs, we hope to feature several of our growing top academy players in that inaugural season.
While that is the goal for the players, for the club we hope that we can provide a fantastic fan experience each and every game. We want to ensure that we repay our fans and community as a whole in every match we host. We want to build the best club experience possible.
And third I want to connect Lowcountry United more with our wonderful local businesses, schools, local corporations, charities etc. whether that's through sponsorship's, partnerships or just community involvement. We all progress together!
What does the local reaction to LCU seem to be? Are people exited for what you're doing?
We are seeing a good positive response for sure. I see messages every day about people wanting to come tryout for Lowcountry, parents calling us to get information on the DA, people talking to us all out and about when they see us wearing club gear.
Our social media accounts show lots of discussions and impressions on the club and overall people know Lowcountry United is here. The strength of the local community to come out and support will be seen when we can finally host home games.
There is a sense of purpose and excitement by those I've connected with about the club. They want to see the nearly impossible to be possible. We can't wait to see it grow day by day.
Has joining a higher level league made it any easier for you to secure sponsors?
Monetary Sponsorship's, no, not at all.
Strategic partnerships yes I believe it helps a lot. We have made numerous strategic partnerships as the value the companies see is clear cut. However it's not necessarily the same case when your talking monetary sponsorship's.
We have been fortunate enough though to have the full support and backing of global powerhouse Mankiewicz Coatings. We are discussing a lot of possibilities for future projects with there local managing director.
Good to hear. On the topic of Strategic Partnerships, what are you looking for when it comes to a strategic partner, and are there any examples you can talk about right now of what those look like?
A strategic partner I look for is one that first can share the vision of Lowcountry United. A strategic partner for me is one that shares an understanding of the value we can create and sees a growth potential. On the business side of it we have some great partnerships, for example NetGalaxy Studios is our official mobile app provider, this was a new industry for them and they have enjoyed the growth that we are having and the ability to be open to recommendation from other soccer clubs. Strategic partnership in our website developer Colophon Media, no monetary contribution to the club but offering to support the club with website development and hosting for us. They shared our vision of community reinvestment and building opportunities locally so another strategic partnerships.
The soccer specific partnerships I hope to announce more positive insight on this in the coming weeks once we finalize everything.
This will be a big step for our club and will be a huge statement of intent in what we are promising the Charleston area. More to come on that.
About the app. How did that partnership come about, and has it helped generate more interest in the club? And where did the idea to have a team app come from?
That was simple I reached out to NetGalaxy to discuss my vision of Lowcountry United and explained we want to be progressive, and available to others. They loved the idea and the new challenge of designing a soccer club specific app that was interactive but also user friendly which can grow in features with the club, so we got to work and they provided a fantastic club app.
I had the idea one day when I left my phone in my car and was at the soccer field preparing for training. I was wondering what time it was but my phone was in the car and I didn't have a watch, I thought to myself what would I do with my phone, so I thought, I have everything on my phone, the one tool for anything I need from social media, to internet, games to banking. Why not a Lowcountry United mobile app to add to this one tool that we all typically have on us?
I figured it would be a game changer for our club's competitive advantage in marketing, advertising, information and connections with supporters. We would be one of the very few clubs that even had club mobile specific apps.
So the app can allow you to notify fans of changes to game times, upcoming events, and give sponsors another way to advertise to a potential client base? Sounds like a win-win for everybody to me!
Exactly...You got it!
Push notifications with geofencing along with an immediate updating platform capability from our club admin site.
Social media button also is really neat as if you don't have Twitter or Facebook etc and want to follow our live updates, you can just open the app and follow along. Wonderful platform.
Very cool. Do you feel the app has been helpful so far?
I do believe so. We're still growing so I would hope as we continue to progress it could become more of an outlet that more people will use, generate some additional advertising revenue for the club and things like that.
I know a lot of teams base their success as a club from year to year on how they do on the field. What are a couple of things you'd like to achieve off field that you would consider success for 2017 and 2018?
I would like to see more work progress on bringing in investment in the club to really allow us to build the best semi pro club available.
Would like to ensure we find a official home venue to host games and have proper club training session without all the constant stress we are currently having.
And would like to see the progression of our community involvement efforts. We got to get people seeing that we are about more than just soccer and helping with local events and worthy charity causes or volunteering whatever it maybe is still a huge focus of mine.
Any ideas you have for community outreach?
We have began working to assist the local rec department with helping them with the special Olympics program for soccer. Would like to work with some of the community centers on their programs and youth groups. Fundraisers and charity events things like that to help return the club back to the community.
Good start. Who are some of the players we should keep an eye on once league play takes off?
I think we have a lot of quality players in our current 1st team.
We have a wealth of experienced players who know what it takes to compete at a semi pro level and even pro level.
I think you can expect to see fantastic things from several of our seasoned players like club captain Desmond Farrelly, 2017 club leading goal scorer Jamal Eddine, top quality young Brazilian defender Mateus Brito, experienced CB Ross Cunningham, Wilmington NC collegiate CAM Tyler Clare, Moroccan playmaker Amine Lkima, I mean the list goes on.
However I think our rosters are going to experience a lot of change over the next couple months as we really begin to ensure we have a competitive top quality roster of the best talent available to compete alongside these veterans so it's going to be a season to remember for sure. These guys all are hungry for the opportunity to set our inaugural season off with a bang.
You recently completed your 2018 US Open Cup qualifying match. Didn't go quite as hoped, with Majestic Soccer Club out of Atlanta winning 2-0. Despite the loss, are you pleased to have gotten entry in to the Cup, and do you feel like you have a better understanding of what it will take to not only enter but really compete next year?
Definitely not the result we wanted but I'm proud of our club for being the only club in South Carolina to enter the 2018 Open Qualifying rounds of the USOC. This is a milestone all in itself and an experience we will never forget.
I feel the game was competitive, the players were match fit and had months of competitive matches and training sessions together but on the day we just could not finish our chances. I am proud of the determination of the players who represented the club proudly in this historic inaugural match for Lowcountry and I am eager for us to make a stronger run come next year.
As we wrap this up, what are a couple of things you've learned about running a team that others should avoid, and a couple of things teams should really consider doing?
I would have to say the biggest thing I've learned is you cannot accept no as an answer. There are going to be tons and tons of set backs. It comes with everything that you have to do in organizing and building a club. You're going to get told by everyone what to do, how to do it and not everyone is going to like every single thing that you decide. But I've learned that there is never going to always be a happy medium only the best course of action for the progression of your club. So don't take no for an answer, believe in your vision, the foundational principals that's you began on and never take no for an answer. It takes work, it takes credibility and persistence but it will pay off.
My best advice to others is stay the course. Know your goals and don't stop working to accomplish them. Lay out the expectations of what you want the club to acccomplish to your players and staff so you always have as a club an objective that you are shooting for.
Never forget that the club is bigger than any one person so value the opportunity to create opportunity for your community.
Things to avoid I think are always specific from club to club so what works and doesn't work for one may work for another. Just find your place in this chaotic business and enjoy the ride!