With the calendar flipped to 2019, the National Premier Soccer League moves a step closer to its 17th season.
And while the big news going forward is the NPSL Founder’s Cup – the organization’s professional venture that begins this fall – the foundation of the circuit is still in its 90-plus grassroots teams.
Asheville City Soccer Club head coach Mick Giordano is excited to see the league branch out, even though ACSC – for now – is remaining part of the amateur alignment.
“The (NPSL Founders Cup) will be another wonderful opportunity for fans to engage with the professional game in more markets across the country,” Giordano said. “It allows us to continue to grow the game in local communities similar to what you see across the world. The access to a professional team for some fans will be just minutes away instead of a few hours due to the size of the U.S. The buy-in to the sport will continue to grow due to this, and help it grow more across our country. We think future of the NPSL will be bright with more clubs taking the next steps forward.”
Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, Miami FC, Miami United FC, Milwaukee Torrent and New York Cosmos comprise the Founders Cup East, while the West features ASC San Diego, Cal FC, California United Strikers FC, FC Arizona and Oakland Roots.
“You look at the lower leagues in England, National League North and National League South for example, they began and are run in a similar fashion,” Giordano said.
ACSC moving forward as a “traditional” NPSL club is fine with Giordano; there is plenty of time to grow.
“As for Asheville City SC, our focus will continue to be on solidifying the foundation of our club to enable us to be around for many years to come, to inspire younger generations of boys and girls in (Western North Carolina) and have a top club they aspire to play for one day, and to make a difference within our community and fan base,” he said.
The 2019 campaign, which begins in May, will be second for Giordano as manager. His first edition of Blues finished 5-6-3 in the Southeast Conference Division of the South Region, qualifying for the playoffs and advancing to the second round of the knockout tournament.
Midfielder Kristian Moore-Cowell and forward Bruno Andrade represented Asheville on the all-conference team.
Miami FC, playing out of the Sunshine Conference Division of the South Region, won the NPSL title last season. Chattanooga FC, which finished atop the Southeast Conference Division, was No. 23 in the 2018 NPSL power rankings.
“The standard of the NPSL is a lot higher than people give it credit for, especially the Southeast division,” Giordano explained. “For me, I feel the level was raised from 2017 to 2018, but I was not surprised by it. You look at the Atlanta Silverbacks, who made a run to the Regional final losing to eventual winner Miami FC. We beat them home and away in the regular season, as did Chattanooga.
“My point being, in our conference, everyone can find a massive result on any given day. There are loads of good players on every team.”
Giordano points specifically to ACSC’s Manny Perez, a North Carolina State standout who is working on a deal with Celtic FC of the Scottish Premier League, and Silverbacks standout Keka Kamara, a UCLA product who signed with German club SC Paderborn.
“There are loads more though,” he said. “You’ve got top managers as well; coaches that really know what they are doing. There is a reason we will see NPSL teams continue to make runs in the U.S. Open Cup, especially teams from the Southeast.”
And while Giordano is no longer a rookie NPSL coach, he says he hit the ground running the minute he got the job.
“I’d like to think I was comfortable from the start,” said Giordano, who was assistant head coach for the Wofford College men’s team in 2018. “I had a few nerves on opening day at Memorial Stadium in front of an awesome crowd of 2,200 Blues faithful, but I’ve been fortunate to be on a staff that won the ACC regular season and tournament titles, as well as play in a National Championship. One thing my head coach during that time always said was, ‘The moment is never too big. We are meant to be here in this moment. Enjoy it and thrive in it.’
“I try to take that with me everywhere I go. That being said, I know I will enjoy year two even more than year one and not let the small stuff linger. I have the opportunity to work with the best ownership, staff, and players in the entire country. I couldn’t ask for more than that.”
Giordano graduated from UNC Asheville and was a two-year starter for the Bulldogs. Before coaching at Wofford, he spent time on the staff at Wake Forest.
This year he returns to his alma mater as an assistant coach.
“I am back at UNC Asheville working for (head coach Mathes Mennell), which is great,” Giordano said. “He is one of my mentors and has done a lot for me in my short career thus far.”
However, the difference in coaching college soccer and the sport at the elite amateur level does have its differences.
“For me, the biggest difference is the level and mindset,” Giordano said. “In the summer for City, we are strictly football and community relations. We don’t have to manage the boys’ time with classes, study hall, tutors, etc. Also, at City we are working with some of the best players in the entire country; truly elite footballers and athletes.
“In the college game, you are managing player development and helping players manage all the distractions of being a college athlete. At UNC Asheville, we focus on three areas: player growth as a footballer, player growth academically, and overall growth as an individual to make a difference in society.”
For now, though, it’s all about the Blues, and prep for a new season has already begun.
“The process for our roster is well underway,” Giordano said. “The staff has worked tirelessly since August scouting games and developing a large player pool. From there we have been able to break that large number into a smaller group. Then add in personal relationships with college coaches and we have another group of players. Our goal from the beginning of this process has been to identify the players that will fit our brand and standard, both on and off the field.
“We hope to build on what we did last year with several returners dashing the Navy and White again.”
For more information on ACSC, go to www.ashevillecitysc.com.
Woods new coach of ACSC women’s club
The Asheville City women’s side, which competes in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, has new leadership in 2019.
The club on Friday announced that Lisa-Marie Woods has been named head coach, taking the reins from Stacey Enos.
The club had a successful inaugural season in 2018, finishing 9-1-1 while competing in the Carolinas Conference of the South Region.
An Oslo, Norway, native, Woods earned her coaching license in 2003 and is currently on the staff of the Creighton University women’s team.
As a player, her career spanned 14 years and nine different countries. She captained Norway’s U-19 team in the UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship in 1998, and in 2010 she was named the top player in Norway’s premiere women’s league, the Toppserien.