"Hopefully there's a nugget or two in there that you can use."
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Welcome to American Pyramid ladies and gentlemen readers! I'm going to let you get right into it today. This interview is part 1 of 2 with Jonathan Fonseca, President of National Premier Soccer League club Rhode Island Reds FC. Yes, the interview really is long enough to be split up. There's a lot here, including great stories about the rise and fall of soccer clubs, lessons for owners, and the power of soccer to help heal after a tragedy. Check it out.
Let's start simple. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with the Rhode Island Reds.
My name is Jonathan Fonseca and I'm from Cranston, Rhode Island a state in which I've lived my entire life. I am the President of the Rhode Island Reds where I've served in the roll for 3 years now.
What got you interested in working with a soccer team?
I've been a soccer fan my entire life and since I wasn't a fantastic player my goals quickly turned to coaching and getting involved with the backroom and running a club.
Which position did you play?
I was a central defender but I had a solid cross so the one day they put me as a full back I got slid tackled from behind and tore my Achilles. And that was the end of that chapter.
Oh man. All it really takes is one bad move and it's over. I got kicked in the back of the heel in a pickup game last spring and had a limp for three to four months after. As life long Rhode Islander, how would you say the soccer scene in Rhode Island has changed from when you were a kid to now, as an adult?
No kidding! Oh man, where do I begin with this one. When I was a kid there really wasn't anything but local town leagues and some club teams. Then came the Rhode Island Stingrays who played in the USL Pro and later the USL PDL. It was a fun family atmosphere to go watch these local guys play against other teams from around the country. And then the MLS really began to take off and a lot of these teams began to fall away.
Recently I'd say pretty much since 2012 the NPSL in particular has done an amazing job in reengaging these markets to showcase local talent.
It seems like the landscape has changed a lot in soccer from when I was a kid to now. Now it's not just a game for kids and their parents. You have a whole supporter culture beginning to rise up. It's truly amazing to see the level of support grow.
Is that level of support affecting the Reds? Like, do you guys have a supporters group and consistent attendance? It's way harder to find these things out then it should be sometimes.
It's been grown year to year. Will we ever be as big as a Detroit City FC? My guess is no. The reason behind that is we have 5 Major League sports teams in New England. Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and the Revolution.
As for a supporters group, we do not have one at the moment, but I'm hoping something will grow soon.
I think it will always be tough for any team in New England who's within a hour of a Major sports team to be able to compete. Just look at the history of teams in Boston.
That's a very good point, and one I don't think a lot of people consider when it comes to new teams in the northeast. It's already a heavily saturated market. Let's focus on the Reds for a bit. How did the Reds even come into being? I guess you could say, much like a comic book, what's the 'origin story?'
The Owner, Kabba Joof, who is from The Gambia has been living in Rhode Island for a while now and fell in love with the state. After the Rhode Island Stingrays dissolved in 2009 he noticed a void for soccer players over the age of 18. When he realized nobody was going to take over the spot as the main developmental club for players over 18 he seized the opportunity. That's pretty much how the Reds was born. Kabba wanted to help out these local kids make it to the next level whether that was making it to play pro or playing in the NPSL and giving back to the community, and in 2012 they fielded their first NPSL team. Two of those players are now playing pro soccer in the NASL. Pedro and Paulo Mendes.
For those who might not be aware, Pedro and Paulo Mendes are going to be playing for the expansion NASL side Puerto Rico FC. What's the story behind the logo? It's a really well done crest for the lower levels, and has a lot symbols that I believe are deserving of a good explanation.
The Reds had a different logo in the beginning. One that didn't really symbolize Rhode Island. Myself, along with Andrew Fonseca decided to take a stab at designing a new Rhode Island Reds logo that tried to capture the state.
The logo features a Rhode Island Red which is our state bird clasping a soccer ball. Surrounding that are 13 gold stars that symbolize Rhode Island as the 13th state to ratify the constitution. Connecting the stars are 2 lines which symbolize Pride and commitment. We are proud and committed to being Rhode Island's soccer team and we want people to feel the same way about us. There's also an anchor which features prominently on our state flag and symbolizes hope. Finally Red is the dominant color as we are the Reds but we also have blue and gold the colors of the state flag which are our secondary jersey colors.
Here's a link to a graphic we put out when we re-branded for anyone who might be interested.
One of the things I like to do during these interviews is figure out what people did to actually get involved with their current soccer team. Whether that's going to school for business, volunteering, or actually starting their own team. How did you get involved with working for the Reds?
Strap yourself in.
So in 2011 I realized I wanted something more than just supporting the Revolution. I wanted to help something grow and really try to make a difference in soccer. Because of this I saw a team called the Boston Victory and reached out to them. They were a new team set to play in the USL Pro. The investor decided to then first field a PDL team and see how things went from there. Due to egos between the owners the team folded almost before the seasons ended. A few games in to the season I noticed the Reds which were much closer to me than driving over an hour to Boston. So with all of the tension surrounding the Boston Victory I left and began my journey with the Reds. At this time I was beaten down pretty bad from my experiences and my love for the game was diminishing a bit. It's like the saying sausage is great until you find out how it's made.
Thankfully my love for soccer came back pretty quickly with the Reds as the owner is a very easy going man who just wants to do showcase the talent here and try to help these players achieve their goals.
From 2012-2013 I was pretty much just doing consulting for the Reds and helping out with little things here and there. But in 2013 after the season I really began to get involved with the club hard core and now it's 2016 and here I am.
As far as how I got involved with lower league soccer it comes down to I'm a graphic designer & videographer and just wanted to enhance my skills doing something I loved.
There's some more nonsense in there but that's pretty much the gist of it.
I completely forgot about the Boston Victory. Of course, back in 2011 team turnover was absolutely ridiculous at pretty much every level. Rhode Island may not be a big state, but where exactly is home for the Reds?
We play at Brown University in Providence. The official field is Berylson Family Fields at the Erickson Athletic Complex
Providence is pretty well in the center of the state, isn't it?
Yeah pretty much.
What kind of a town is Providence? I've never been, and really the furthest east I've ever been is Baltimore. So you are describing your town to a true outsider.
Hmmm Providence is strange. It's a college city that's a mix between hipsters, students, and business professionals. There's skyscrapers and old buildings but unless you've been to a New England city there's no way of really describing how badly laid out our old city's are.
Kind of like the roads following old cow trails in Boston that become one way's when you aren't looking that I'm always hearing about?
100%. On a smaller scale, but yes.
And that's why Boston isn't bidding for the Olympics. That and the citizens just not wanting to do it. Let's talk about the league your team is in, the National Premier Soccer League. Why join them? Did they offer advantages that the other leagues in the area, like the Premier Development League, doesn't?
They seem to offer roughly the same things. I think the thing that sets the NPSL apart is the entry and yearly fees. They are so much more realistic than the PDL.
That and the NPSL offers a combine for their players in January. I'm not sure if the PDL does that but they didn't used to.
So really if you're a player I'd say that the NPSL is the league you want to play in as there is more exposure. That's just my experience.
You might be the first guy to cite exposure for players as a reason. It does seem as if PDL players are, for the most part, known quantities, more so then NPSL. Where are the other teams in your division located, and who would you consider your biggest rival?
Really? Interesting. I know the PDL has a longer history but the NPSL seems to be making huge strides forward compared to the PDL. Being in both leagues it seems to me that the NPSL does a better job.
Other areas for teams would be Lowell, MA. Boston, MA, New York, Maine, and New Hampshire. I'd say Lowell is our biggest rival for sure.
And I don't really know what it is about Lowell. We just seem to have hit it off as rivals. Sometimes it gets a little heated and challenges get rough. But I think that's what a good rivalry should be. At the end of the day we respect them as a club and think they have a good organization. But for some reason when we get on the field together it brings out the best and sometimes the worst in each team.
The NPSL is on the upswing for sure. Now didn't you guys have a friendly against Newtown in a charity match recently, or am I getting my teams mixed up?
Ah yeah that wasn't the Reds that was the Boston Rams which I was also a part of.
Really? Well it looks like I can still ask my question then. What was it like being involved in that friendly? I mean, that's a super emotionally charged match.
Oh my god it was amazing. To play the Revolution was incredible and to be a part of the new Cosmos era was equally amazing. I only wish it wasn't raining. We had everything going well to have a great turnout to benefit those at Sandyhook and then mother nature decided to rain on our parade.
Wow. I forgot the Revolution and Cosmos were involved with that too. That rain is shame, but who knows, maybe you can make it happen again sometime? What is the name of the team from Newtown again?
They are the Newtown Pride.
That's right. I was thinking it was just Newtown SC. Having been involved with soccer for awhile, I've got a layered question for you. What are two things you've learned that other people and or teams should do, and some they should avoid?
I'd say at this level one of the biggest mistakes is that people enter these leagues with the intention of being in the MLS in a couple of years. That needs to stop, it's really unrealistic. And I think another thing that goes along with that is not to underestimate the level of play in these leagues. There's some great players who get their start in leagues like the NPSL so if you're a new team coming in don't think you're going to steamroll over every other team.
Some advice for people looking to get involved with teams in these leagues would be to be aware of owners with lofty ambitions. In my experience these owners believe they are going to spend a year or two in a lower league and go pro. When they realize that they are having a tough time competing in the NPSL they fold the team rather than admitting they were wrong about the level of play.
Here's an example. A while back there was a team in Worcester playing in the PDL who said they would be in the MLS in 5 years and build their own stadium. It's completely unrealistic that the MLS would accept Worcester in the league as the Revs are less than an hour away. What happened? The team folded immediately after the season ended.
As an owner or someone involved with running a team you shouldn't expect 5 thousand people at a lower league game when your major league competition which is under an hour away averages 16 thousand. In your first year set your expectations low and then build off of that in the second year.
Hopefully there's a nugget or two in there that you can use.
Part 2 will be released next Thursday morning. 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.
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