In light of the USMNT crashing out of World Cup Qualifying, we must as Germany did in the early 2000’s turn our attention to the outlying places, and in our soccer culture these are the lower leagues.
Just as Montana was one of the last territories to be made into a state, so it is one of the last states to have a soccer team functioning in a national league. It is a place where 2.5 million head of cattle outnumber the 1 million human residents. The people embrace the rugged landscape in ever increasing numbers, and on most weekends you find what seems like half the population out exploring the great outdoors, and many are doing it after attending their children’s youth games. Montana is still culturally a state which embraces brute force games like football, and past pastimes like baseball, but there is a significant upwelling of support for the game of soccer. Migrants from the West and East Coast are coming and helping to grow the game at various youth clubs, and the colleges are bringing in a solid offering of internationals who are very passionate about the game. Now is the time for soccer to grab a foothold and start creating teams in Montana to compete in the NPSL or UPSL for the 2018 season.
Billings is the place that I would start and not just because I am currently living there. Billings has a population of 110,000 and has been steadily growing over the past several decades. The size and feel of the city reminds me a lot of Duluth Mn, where I was the Head Coach for Duluth F.C. If Duluth can get a side in the NPSL with a good following and quality play then Billings is even better suited for it. In Billings there are two institutions of higher learning: Montana State University Billings D2, and Rocky Mountain College NAIA. Both programs have a history of success in the region and both programs have produced quality individuals who have stayed in town after their tenure as student athletes. This is a lot like Duluth and provides the opportunity to create a base of high quality former college athletes. Many of these players have left Billings to play in NPSL and PDL markets, so why not create a club that keeps them at home? Money, interest and belief are the factors that make this challenging.
Running a club is not a cheap enterprise especially when the nearest city greater than 100,000 is seven hours away from you. Besides travel there are uniform costs, training field costs, stadium rentals, and league dues. Whether we choose the NPSL or UPSL will depend on our ability to raise operating funds. Both are growing leagues and neither currently offer opponents within a 7 hour radius of Billings.
Minimizing costs is essential unless we can find a backer with a sincere love for the game and deep pockets. For now it has to be a shoestring operation. But what a place for such an operation! Billings is able to support a semi-pro baseball team, the Mustangs, to the tune of 3000 fans for 37 home appearances. Home games can be held at either of the college stadiums or even possibly down the road at Amend Park which boasts 14 full sized grass fields. It’s hard to imagine that the 3500 plus youth soccer players in the area wouldn’t be able to convince their parents to take them to game, but if that does not work, perhaps being able to serve beer from one of our terrific micro-brews might do the trick.
Just as the cowboys saw something great in this landscape, so we something great in it. That it is barren of the greatest sport in the world is just our opportunity to leave a positive mark on the game.
You can follow Kyle and his efforts to start a team in Billings on Twitter @soccerbakas
My first experience with semi-professional American soccer was a rained-out NPSL game. Detroit City vs Ann Arbor, 7th of July. Even though it was pouring down rain, the supporters stand was still full, and it didn't stop the fans from jumping up and down and chanting towards the stewards that were using giant push brooms to move waves of water from the turf. The bottom 6” of one of the corner flags was underwater. People were still everywhere, in line for food, drinking in the beer garden, counting the minutes between lightning flashes. Everyone was soaking wet and hoping that a half hour would pass after the last flash so the ref's would let the game start. We got there a bit late, and a few minutes after we walked through the gate a bright bolt of light struck in the west, sending up a perfectly synced collective groan from the thousands that were still there.
Not to be discouraged, the Northern Guard instantly erupted back into song, people made note of the new time the match would be able to start, and the party continued. Tiny Keyworth Stadium had a feeling of a large-scale festival. The game had already been delayed by a over 45 minutes and nobody seemed to care. The rain had mostly let up, and in spite of conditions being something that would normally make Detroiters more than a little grumpy, everybody was in a great mood. I saw the best possible example of the kind of atmosphere that every sports team is striving to achieve at their events.
The game was eventually called off, but I left completely blown away by the fans' dedication, and knowing that from then on I absolutely had to come to as many games as I could. Not only that, it made me actively less interested in going to a sporting event that would be any different. There was an intimacy to the scale of the game that gave everyone there a sense of togetherness and community. At every match I've been to since, there was a feeling that while the game belonged to the team, the night itself was owned by the fans. Win or lose, rain or shine, the people that came out were going to have a good time.
So what have DCFC done to so effectively build it's extremely loyal and diverse fan base? How is it that a NPSL team can pull the kind of crowds that would make some D2 teams jealous? What has happened, and is continuing to happen in Detroit that has made such a successful footprint on the pitch of American soccer? I don't have answers, but I do think young and developing teams could benefit from pursuing these questions if they want to create a relevant supporters culture capable of building a successful pro/rel pyramid in the USA. Not that Detroit should necessarily be a blueprint, but it can definitely serve as inspiration. After all, it's quite an achievement to get thousands of fans to cheer in the rain for a game that isn't happening.
Follow me on Twitter @Shallcross_Nick
Title pretty much says it all. Dan reached out to me earlier this summer about doing a guest post discussing the branding of NPSL Club Minneapolis City. This post covers why the team chose the brand it did, and explains how owning your brand, no matter what others think, is critical.
Happy Friday! Today I'm re-posting an article originally published on May 2, 2017, by Art Eftekhari, the staff writer for NPSL Club Orange County FC. We've actually been talking about re-posting this article for awhile, but busy-ness got in the way. However, after OCFC's surprise 2-0 win, it seems only appropriate that this article be reposted ahead of the teams upcoming NPSL Western Conference Final against CD Aguiluchos tomorrow. Check it out.