Supporting local soccer is quite convenient for me considering the local soccer team I support plays just a little over two miles from my house.
That team is Greenville Football Club, the National Premier Soccer League squad that wrapped up its 2019 regular season on Saturday with a 3-1 victory over Chattanooga FC.
After calling Furman University’s Eugene Stone Soccer Stadium home in their inaugural campaign last year, they moved to venerable Sirrine Stadium this summer.
My latest trip to the historic venue (it’s been around for 83 years and its concrete steps and seating show it) served a couple of purposes.
One, it allowed me to buy a ticket and contribute a few dollars to GVLFC, which is important. Investing in community soccer involves your money as well as your time.
And two, I got to see the club that I “own.”
I joined 3,287 of my closest friends and bought a combined $880,750 worth of equity shares in Chattanooga FC. This club, grounded in a community-based philosophy, is the model for everything right about American soccer – and everything it could be.
I wanted to be a (small) part of it all, even though Friday was the first time I’d ever actually seen them play live.
It was a fun night.
I spent most of it roaming the stadium, taking turns eavesdropping on the respective supporters groups (the Milltown Operatives and Chattahooligans) and enjoying an intense match.
Thing is, had brothers Marco and Richard Carrizales not decided to put an NPSL club in the Upstate of South Carolina, I might still be largely ignorant when it comes to lower division soccer.
Like a lot of other people I know, I’d fallen into the trap of “big box” American soccer, convincing myself that since it had “Major League” in its title it was the only domestic brand of association football I needed to follow.
Oh, over the years I’d kept up with the Atlanta Ruckus/Silverbacks in the A-League, United Soccer Leagues First Division and rebooted North American Soccer League, and cheered for the New York Cosmos when they rose from the soccer grave, but paid no attention to the adult amateur game.
Turns out, though, I had it all backwards. Without strong grassroots soccer, the sport will eventually wither away in this country.
So when I found out the NPSL was coming to town, I started doing research on the league. That led to several other “discoveries,” such as the United Premier Soccer League, Women’s Premier Soccer League and other circuits that often operated (and still operate) far from the spotlight.
GVLC proved to be my gateway club, leading me to find and embrace Asheville City SC and soak in the cool soccer cultures of my two favorite Villes.
From there I learned the story of Chattanooga FC, which led me to start following another community-first club, Detroit FC, and others that are building from the ground up instead of the billionaire down.
It wasn’t long before I concluded the Beautiful Game was still quite attractive even without a $200 million franchise fee.
I’m immersed in the highs and lows and successes and failures of lower division soccer, and now I find myself absorbing all I can about the myriad men’s and women’s teams scattered throughout the country.
Had I stayed in my bubble, I might’ve thought the dormancy (and likely death) of the modern NASL meant my longtime support of the Cosmos was pointless.
But here they are – undefeated in NPSL play, expected to challenge for a title, and then heading to the Founders Cup (a professional offshoot of NPSL) in the fall.
More immediately, though, I’m excited about this weekend’s NPSL playoffs.
Lee Squires’ Greenville squad stands at 5-1-4, wrapped up the second seed in the South Region Southeast Conference Division playoffs behind Chattanooga, and has shown great improvement from 2018’s maiden voyage team.
Asheville City SC and Inter Nashville SC fill out the four-team playoff field in an elimination event that will take place at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga Friday and Saturday.
A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t care a thing about the NPSL postseason. Hell, I wouldn’t even know about it.
Now I do.
It reminds me of a scene in the movie “Damned United” when manager Brian Clough is trying to put assistant Peter Taylor in his place.
Taylor was having none of it.
“Oh, yes, you’re the shop window, I grant you that,” Taylor said. “The razzle and the bloody dazzle. But I’m the goods in the back!”
Thanks to Greenville FC, I’m no longer starstruck by the razzle and the dazzle of franchise soccer. My hometown club helped me realize the goods in the back are just two miles from my house.