For someone who has followed Chattanooga FC for a while now, hearing on Thursday that the club has a new life in a new league was terrific news.
Same goes for Detroit City FC, another club built by supporters, for supporters.
And as a guy who still cheers for the New York Cosmos and used to live for the old “Soccer Bowls” and the original North American Soccer League – the launch of the National Premier Soccer League’s pro circuit resonates.
According to a NPSL news release, the clubs will compete in the first-ever NPSL Founders Cup competition that will run from August to November, 2019.
The exact format is still being worked out.
After that tournament-style debut, the circuit will play a full league schedule from spring to fall in 2020, falling in line with the American professional soccer calendar.
While the “traditional” NPSL plays a truncated summer schedule with amateur players, NPSL Pro (or however it ultimately brands itself) will be full-time with paid coaches, players and staff.
“We are very excited to bring a new brand of community-based soccer to the U.S. market,” NPSL Chairman Joe Barone said in a statement. “Beginning with the Founders Cup, fans will be able to enjoy watching authentic clubs compete with professional players and staff. This new venture will build upon the success and experience of NPSL and its nationwide network of local soccer club members.”
Aside from Chattanooga, Detroit and New York, the 11 founding members are ASC San Diego, Cal FC, California United Strikers FC, FC Arizona, Miami FC, Miami United FC, Milwaukee Torrent, and Oakland Roots, with plenty of room for more clubs in the future.
(The Roots, by the way, have one of the best crests in the history of crests. Look it up).
If you want to view NPSL Pro as a “renegade league,” feel free … I doubt they mind.
It will exist outside of the United States Soccer Federation because instead of a franchise model, these clubs are sticking to their grassroots growth plan.
“Having been Chattanooga’s football club for 10 years, we are really excited about the future and moving up to the next level,” Sheldon Grizzle, Chattanooga FC general manager, said. “This has been in the works for several years and we are proud for our fans and supporters to see this come to fruition.”
Instead of the USSF’s blessing – which was neither sought nor expected – the new league is aligned with the United States Adult Soccer Association.
“We support our members’ growth and expansion of their leagues,” USASA President John Motta said. “This is another opportunity to develop players, coaches, administrators, and referees at the highest level of adult soccer. This is absolutely critical for player development, as it prepares players onto the next level and also for referee development, as this level of adult soccer is the best training ground for referees in this country.”
Growing up in the Deep South in the late 1960s, soccer to me was so rare it was damn near exotic. Now, though, it’s everywhere.
Aside from NPSL Pro, the National Independent Soccer Association is set to kick off its inaugural season in 2019 with eight teams.
USL League One, the United Soccer League’s newest circuit, also debuts in 2019 with 10 franchises.
They function as a “third division” in America’s mythical soccer pyramid, with Major League Soccer and USL Championship serving as the first and second divisions, respectively.
However, since NPSL Pro exists outside the USSF structure, it conceivably can grow into something more.
When you look at the vastness of the fourth-tier NPSL – more than 90 clubs are scattered across the country – the possibility of one day having a true pyramid with promotion and relegation exists.
Beyond that, though, I just like the fact that these 11 clubs want to chart their own course in “The Beautiful Game.”
Obviously I’m happy for all the teams involved, and glad the Cosmos have found a professional home again. But I’m especially pleased for Chattanooga and Detroit, two clubs that have refused to stray from their grassroots model.
If NPSL Pro is ultimately the future of American soccer, those two cities will always be remembered for being ahead of the curve – and helping lay the foundation.