By Scott Adamson
Almost from the moment the United Soccer League announced it was forming a third division circuit, the prospects of Greenville, South Carolina, landing a club was more a case of “when,” not “if.”
Today is the day.
League executives gathered at Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville Tuesday morning to make it official. Greenville entrepreneur Joe Erwin, President of Erwin Creates, leads the ownership group which also includes his son, Doug.
“The world game belongs in a world-class community, and we already feel like Greenville is part of USL,” Erwin said. “We are thrilled to be a part of the USL’s new Division III league and to bring professional soccer to our community. The Upstate has a passion for the sport that extends from community soccer clubs that attract thousands of youth to high school teams that compete at the highest levels and nationally-ranked programs at Clemson University and Furman University.
“This is more than just a game, it really contributes to quality of life. As we evaluated all the factors in making a decision, we realized this region is more than ready to support pro soccer at this level.”
The league is expected to have 10 to 12 teams in 2019, and then further growth will be targeted to populate regions.
The Greenville entry joins South Georgia Tormenta FC and FC Tucson as the first three founding members of USL Division III, which begins play next March.
With Major League Soccer serving as North America’s lone first division league in a closed pyramid system, USL competes as a second tier organization and has formed a third level that will play under the USL umbrella.
USL Division III has targeted U.S. communities with populations from 150,000 to one million, with a focus on, “markets that possess strong local ownership groups, populations with broad-based diversity, a vibrant millennial and strong family base, established corporate support, and stadiums to properly showcase the sport for fans, partners and the public.”
Greenville’s population is roughly 60,000, but its broader metro area – which includes Anderson and Mauldin – is more than 880,000.
“We are honored to have such an economically diverse and vibrant market like Greenville, South Carolina, as a founding member of USL Division III,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said. “Greenville is a dynamic city, with a storied soccer history driven by the nationally-recognized programs at Clemson University and Furman University, along with the international influence of global corporations headquartered in the region. We welcome Joe Erwin to the USL family. As a long-time resident of this community, successful businessman and major contributor to Greenville’s economic growth, Joe is the right person to lead this effort and develop a successful club for the region’s passionate fans.”
Chris Lewis will serve as team president.
“Our success strongly depends on having the proven leadership of someone who understands professional sports, the market and, most significantly, is an active member of our community,” Doug Erwin said. “We found that in Chris, and we’ve placed him at the top of the pyramid running this organization.”
Team branding and stadium decisions are to come.
“If you ask me where we’re going to play in March, I’ve got no answer for you yet,” Joe Erwin said. “There’s a lot of work left to be done.”
The announcement of a USL Division III club marks the second time in less than four months the South Carolina city has been chosen to host a team.
Greenville FC became a member of the National Premier Soccer League last November and begins regular season play in May.