Before last Saturday, I’m guessing many of the 2,077 people who showed up for the National Premier Soccer League’s debut in Greenville weren’t familiar with the concept of “community soccer.”
Now that they’ve had a taste of it, though, they’ll be back – and they might just bring some friends.
The events at Eugene Stone Stadium weren’t an unqualified success since Greenville FC fell to Inter Nashville FC, 2-1, in the home debut of G-Vegas’ home club.
But let’s not dwell on that detail.
You only get one shot at making a good first impression, and I can’t imagine anyone feeling cheated by the end of the night.
Coach Lee Squires and his “Boys In Green” showed marked improvement from their inaugural match, playing an attack-oriented, entertaining brand of soccer against a quality opponent.
It was enjoyable for the full 90-plus minutes, with the outcome in doubt up to the final whistle.
And hat’s off to the folks at Furman who “ran the show.”
From parking to ticket-distribution to all-around helpfulness, they were first class. They always are, of course, but they performed as though they’d been coordinating NPSL events for years instead of just one night.
Marco Carrizales, president and majority owner of Greenville FC, spent much of his time gripping and grinning, and he had to be happy with the number of happy people he met.
After all, this is a grassroots team in a grassroots league. Supporters will be the reason it survives and thrives.
When my wife and I arrived, we sat on the back row of the visitors’ side of the stadium near the Spinks Field House. To our right was a senior couple, to our left a young family of four, and we were among a mixture of children and adults – many wearing Greenville FC attire and some sporting colors of their favorite international clubs.
Soon the Mill Town Operatives marched in – in full voice – and set the tone for the rest of the supporters.
It was a blast.
Malcom Frago scored the first home goal in Greenville FC history when he put the hosts head in the seventh minute, but the visitors got the goal back in the ninth minute and went ahead to stay in the 12th.
Still, it was nerve-wracking (in a good way) the rest of the contest.
Had the goal been six inches wider, the “good guys” would’ve had five goals in the first half alone.
Beyond the quality of play, however, what impressed me most was how quickly the team and the town developed an attachment.
Most of us have gone to sporting events for the novelty of it all, cheering out of obligation even though – in all honesty – we don’t really care.
But the supporters did care last Saturday.
They knew names and numbers.
They knew formations.
They blamed the referees for slights both real and imagined.
They understood the game, and they understood that in community soccer, the community extends beyond the field and to every person in the stands.
Greenville FC (0-2-0) returns to league competition on Saturday in New Orleans when they face the Jesters. The next home match is May 24 when Emerald Force FC comes in for a 7 p.m. start.
According to the NPSL website, the philosophy of the league is pretty clear:
“We compete for 90 minutes on the field, we are business partners…always. We all work together to grow the game, build the NPSL, and develop our respective clubs.”
That was evident on May 12.
But the biggest achievement was the successful mixture of business and pleasure.
And while Greenville FC’s business is playing good soccer, it’ll be a pleasure to watch them do just that.
Editor’s note: This column has been updated to reflect the postponement of Wednesday’s friendly against Savannah.