The soccer community – players, coaches, supporters – can’t get enough of “The Beautiful Game.” And when it comes to community soccer, Lee Squires is excited about doubling his pleasure.
Squires, who guided Greenville Football Club in their first season of competition last summer, is back to coach the squad again in its second year as members of the National Premier Soccer League.
As an expansion team in 2018, GVLFC finished 4-7-3 in the Southeast Conference Division of the South Region, but was in the mix for a playoff spot until the final week of the season.
The club showed marked improvement from week to week, and there were plenty of positives.
“There were many individual moments that were special, such as the first win down in New Orleans, the last minute equalizer at home to Chattanooga, or the two wins over Asheville,” Squires said. “But overall, it was great to see how the club grew in year one, both on and off the field. The connection to the fans and the culture we built is something that we will carry forward into this season, more so than any win and moment on the field from last year.”
Squires already had a great coaching pedigree before taking the reins of Greenville’s adult amateur soccer club. As head coach of Lander University, Squires has compiled a 57-13-9 record with four NCAA Tournament appearances. Last fall the Bearcats finished 16-2-3 and won the Southeast Region championship – making their deepest run in the postseason in 13 years.
According to the skipper, segueing from one team to the other isn’t a difficult transition.
“I wouldn’t say there are too many differences,” Squires explains. “I get more time with my college guys than the Greenville guys, so we can cover more things in practice. We are trying to build a summer squad of high level players, so the depth throughout the team in the summer may be higher.”
Greenville FC President Marco Carrizales said in an earlier interview that bringing Squires back is a huge boost going into 2019.
“His hunger to be better as a coach and his desire to perfect his craft were things that made me very comfortable,” Carrizales said. “Player development and player happiness are essential for us to recruit high level talent, and Lee provides that for us. I can confidently say that Lee has full trust from us and I’d like for him to stay for as long as we can have him.”
Even though the NPSL season is still three months from kickoff, preparations are well underway. On Saturday, the first of two open tryouts were held at the Kroc Center, with the next slated for February 16.
In 2018, four trialists earned roster spots.
“Tryouts are a great way to bring players in who have an interest in competing for the club,” said Squires, who worked with more than 30 hopefuls over the weekend. “Of course, we cannot make an in-depth assessment on every player in just one day, so we are looking for little things that show there is development potential in a player. Ultimately, we want these guys to make our roster, but in reality they just need to show well enough on the day for us to want to see more going forward.”
As was the case in 2018, GVLFC will face Anderson University in an exhibition once tryouts are complete. That preseason match is set for March 2 at 3 p.m. at the Kroc Center.
GVLFC will once again be aligned in the Southeast Conference Division this season, although there are some changes.
The Atlanta Silverbacks have been rebranded as Atlanta SC, and Chattanooga FC will be making its farewell tour of the league’s amateur wing as it transitions to the NPSL Founders Cup and professional status.
But the bulk of the league will still be based on the adult amateur model, and Squires says that’s important for the growth – and health – of American soccer.
“It’s huge, especially in the smaller or mid-size markets,” Squires said. “Soccer needs to be accessible to as many people as possible, so teams like ours can reach people who cannot easily get to the nearest MLS team. You can see from our fan base last summer what soccer can mean to a community like Greenville.”
GVLFC dug its roots even deeper in the community when the formation of Greenville FC Academy was announced on Monday. The early stage developmental program will be offered at no charge to participants and their families, and is open to participants age 8-12.
Academy training sessions will be led by Greenville FC players and staff and will run concurrently with regular season NPSL play.
And Squires hopes those who come to Stone Stadium for the first time this summer for Greenville FC’s second season will get a taste of what community soccer is all about.
“They can expect a family friendly atmosphere, lots of entertainment, a connection to the players and staff, and an exciting brand of soccer that’ll deliver more memorable moments,” he said.