Last week’s announcement that Greenville is a founding member in the United Soccer League’s new Division III circuit was met with plenty of excitement.
Gathering at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research, city officials, dignitaries and the Greenville chapter of American Outlaws listened to owner Joe Erwin talk about a “multimillion-dollar commitment” to the franchise, which begins play in 2019.
For a town that has already embraced its South Atlantic League baseball team, the Drive, there’s every reason to believe this new association football team in an American football hotbed will be an unqualified success.
The USL has legs, and they’re strong ones.
But while the Greenville TBAs won’t begin play for another year, Greenville FC – under the direction of Lander University coach Lee Squires – hits the pitch this May, representing the city’s entry in the National Premier Soccer League.
And if you truly care about soccer, you need to care about this team. Although the NPSL is more a blend of amateur and semi-pro teams scattered across North America, it also represents the sport in its most organic form.
Grassroots soccer in this country needs stronger roots, and I’m hoping those of us who live here in Greenville can do our part to help it grow locally.
I’ve already talked to several fellow soccer peeps who are experiencing a bit of angst when it comes to the NPSL club – part of the United States Soccer Federation’s unofficial fourth division – and the USL Division III entry.
Will those who fly the flag for Greenville FC this summer abandon them when D3 begins play next March?
Sure, some will.
But many won’t … and they shouldn’t.
A new supporters group, the Mill Town Operatives, is already behind Greenville FC and will be out in full force for home matches at Eugene Stone Stadium this season.
I also have a suspicion the local A.O. Chapter will be cheering and chanting for both teams starting in 2019 because these are the supporters who are passionate about U.S. soccer in whatever form it takes.
They’ll be able to share their loyalties – not split them.
And let’s not forget the “bang-for-your-buck” factor going forward.
Finances will be an attendance factor once Greenville’s soccer footprint doubles in size, and a family outing at an NPSL match will certainly be less expensive than spending an evening with the USL team.
For those who can afford both, great. You’ll see a lot of really good soccer
But for those who have to pick and choose, some will choose the more economical option.
That won’t mean they’ll be selling themselves short.
Greenville FC President, Marco Carrizales, played at Furman University and put an NPSL club in his adopted city to give community players a chance to be part of a community-driven team.
When Greenville FC faces Anderson University Saturday night in a “trialist exhibition” at the Kroc Center, many players who went through the high school and club ranks in Greenville will be battling for roster spots.
Those who earn them will be able to take their game to the next level without ever leaving the Upstate.
That’s what NPSL brings to the table, and that’s pretty cool. Ultimately, that’s the kind of soccer that makes soccer strong.
A couple of weeks ago in a column I wrote about how the sport is fragmented in the United States, I quoted a line from the soccer-themed movie “The Game of their Lives.”
It bears repeating here:
“You want to know why soccer is the world’s greatest sport? I’ll tell you why. Because all you need is the ball and an open space. You don’t need fancy equipment or special fields. You don’t have to be big or strong or tall. It’s the most democratic of all the sports. The people’s game. Your people’s game. And America’s game in the future.”
Greenville FC is our team in our town.
When they open the home portion of their regular season on May 12 against Inter Nashville FC, there will be players on the field you once saw play in high school and college.
Some will go on to bigger things, but all will be doing their part to make Greenville FC the biggest soccer thing going this summer.
It may lack the glitz and glamour of the franchise that arrives in 2019, but this is the team that’s right here, right now.
And I hope they’re here to stay.
For ticket information, go to gvlfc.com.