Sibrena Stowe-Geraldino admits there was a time when she knew next to nothing about soccer.
Her career as an entrepreneur, music manager, media buyer and journalist kept her busy in the field of entertainment and sports, but the Beautiful Game was not part of her portfolio.
Same holds true for her husband, Alex Geraldino.
Association football is the world’s game, but American football was his; Geraldino played cornerback for teams based in Germany and Austria before injuries sidelined him.
Today, however, both have a place in soccer history as the power couple behind the Bayonne, N.J.-based New Jersey Teamster Football Club of the National Independent Soccer Association. She’s the first female African-American principal owner of soccer team while he’s the first Dominican-American proprietor.
“Can you imagine, two people starting a soccer team with absolutely no soccer experience?” Stowe-Geraldino asked. “Neither one of us had ever kicked a soccer ball at that time, and here we were, investing in the soccer industry and players. In fact, I had to read the book, ‘Soccer for Dummies.’ We knew for certain that I was a well-seasoned entertainment entrepreneur who could run a successful business, make anyone or anything famous and brand the company, if not nationally then globally.
“We also knew for certain that Alex knew exactly how to scout players, how to treat players and how to find the help that we would need for our business. Alex is an alumni of Leigh Steinberg’s Steinberg Academy, and he learned a lot about sports management there.”
But why soccer?
Well, turns out Geraldino’s interest extended far beyond the gridiron.
“What has led us to soccer is interesting since my husband Alex is a former sports player and sports advocate,” Stowe-Geraldino said. “Even after his torn right hamstring and torn arm tendon injuries and retirement from American football, he’s always had a desire to do more in sports. As a passionate athlete, he became a USA boxing official and then a registered U.S. soccer intermediary in 2016. When he was an intermediary, he felt compelled to help develop players and to help them get to the next level.
“He met someone at the (Major League Soccer) Draft in Los Angeles in January, 2017, and by February, 2017, we decided to establish a semi-pro or amateur team.”
The pair met Javier Romero – who believed in their mission and took over as coach of the squad – and soon they became completely immersed in the world’s most popular sport.
Not only that, they made sure NJTFC was an integral part of the Bayonne community.
“We are super involved in the City of Bayonne and the County of Hudson,” Stowe-Geraldino said. “We love engaging with the youth soccer clubs in our region and there is no shortage of ball boys and girls. We’re hosting five-week camps and clinics for soccer players in the school district of Bayonne and other cities throughout northern New Jersey.”
NJ Teamsters FC donates time and money to several non-profits, including the Bayonne-based Ahern Foundation, and provides non-governmental organization schools affiliated with the Malaika Foundation in the Congo and at Estrela de Favela in Rio de Janeiro with items such as team-branded soccer balls and feminine hygiene products.
Civic leaders and government officials have been supportive of NJTFC’s efforts.
“We’re building a legacy that, God willing, will outlive us both and contribute greatly to the lives of the community, for the residents and the businesses,” Stowe-Geraldino said.
Following a successful run with the United Premier Soccer League, the couple decided to fast-track their goals for the Teamsters.
“We competed in pro development and amateur leagues for two years, and we basically wanted to be with a league that operated in a manner in which we were accustomed to,” she said. “We wanted to play for a league that ran their business professionally and with quality. We’re glad we started out in a division 4 and added another team that’s more like division 5. We ranked in the top 5 if not No. 1 each season, won cups, and there was nowhere else to go but up.”
NISA, a Division 3 league that promotes an open model and has no franchise fees, was the logical next step.
Featuring independent soccer success stories such as Chattanooga FC and Detroit FC – as well as the New York Cosmos, one of the sport’s most recognizable brands – NISA offers the Teamsters a chance to broaden their footprint.
“We’ve been approached to join other pro leagues, but ultimately, we loved NISA’s business model,” Stowe-Geraldino said. “Once we discovered Chattanooga FC and Detroit City FC were members, we knew we wanted to be a part of NISA. Alex has studied both club’s business model, and even tried to get in touch with them via LinkedIn, prior to knowing about NISA. As a matter of fact, Alex and I were away on soccer business in Europe when I happened to check Twitter and noticed NISA.
“I then googled the league, googled the founders and all of the clubs and discovered we shared similar values. Integrity, the spirit of excellence, and being change agents are all priorities for us as well as NISA so I told Alex, ‘This is where we need to be.’”
Stowe-Geraldino adds that the name New Jersey Teamsters FC was chosen to give the club a distinct Garden State identity.
“We wanted to be a New Jersey team,” she said. “New York Red Bulls play in New Jersey, in the same county as us, about 15-20 minutes away but, we felt they really didn’t represent New Jersey. We live within the soccer hub of America; Kearny, Ironbound district of Newark, and the New York Cosmos are all within miles from us, but no team with heritage had New Jersey’s name.”
The club crest is equine-inspired and features shades of blue and red.
“We knew we wanted a horse on our logo because that’s the state animal and we looked up the name for a pack of horses, or thoroughbreds as I called us, and low and behold, Teamsters means a driver of a team of animals,” Stowe-Geraldino said.
NJTFC plans to make the move to NISA next year, although the COVID-19 pandemic has shut all sports down until further notice.
NISA was early in its 2020 spring season when it suspended the schedule for 30 days on March 12. That competition stoppage will likely be extended based on current models of the virus’ spread.
“The front office of NJ Teamsters FC is operating from our homes,” Stowe-Geraldino said. “We advertised pro tryouts for March 2020, however we made the decision to reschedule our tryouts about a week or more before the state mandated us to stay in. Once the universities shut down, we followed suit. We’re responsible, are parents and concerned citizens so, it was a no-brainer for us.”
Working from home is still working, of course.
“Right now we’re doing as much work as possible, holding daily conference meetings with our head coach, sponsorship director and advisory board members,” she said. “Our attorneys are still working on contracts, we’re engaged with potential sponsors, purchasing training equipment, interviewing and hiring staff and doing the best that we can during the global pandemic.”
The NJTFC motto is “Stand ready to strike,” and Stowe-Geraldino is confident that when the gears of the sports world start turning again, New Jersey’s newest soccer club will be prepared.
“We’re excited for our future and the future of NISA,” she said. “We know we’re with a league that will work hard at making soccer greater here in the USA.”