"It's important for the players who wish to continue to play competitively to have a chance to do so."
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Good morning everyone, and Merry Christmas! This is the last interview of 2016 before AP goes on a much need holiday. Also, I'm pleased to announce that two new writers have joined AP for 2017, and they are going to bring a whole different kind of article style and perspective to AP for your reading pleasure.
Now, to those of you who have been following the blog for awhile, the name Jonathan Rednour might be a familiar one. He was one of the earliest interviews ever done on AP, when he discussed the precursor to the GCPL, the Louisiana Premier League. You can read that original interview by clicking here. Jonathan took some time to provide updates on the current state of the GCPL, plans for the future, and drops an intriguing cliffhanger. Check it out.
Well how have things been since we interviewed last November? You've had a lot of big changes in the last ten to eleven months.
Yes, we've been busy. We were able to finally get our website up and running and meet all the requirements needed to gain our Elite Amateur League status from USASA. Which seemed to add a little more legitimacy to what we're trying to achieve. We also added 3 new clubs who all have very high ambitions of growing in their cities.
Of course the Rafters are a familiar name that we were very pleased to have jump on board. With their immediate success in the NPSL and gaining the large amount of support from their community we felt we could offer something that would allow them to stay active for more than 4 months out of the year and keep their local players playing at a high level while opening the door for us to extend our reach in that region.
Biloxi City FC is the first club outside of Louisiana to join us and they've been very proactive about getting their community to back them. I think they are going to enjoy being the only team outside of Louisiana and will look to use that as motivation to prove Mississippi has the players to hang with the best of them.
The Louisiana Fire is a very well known youth club in New Orleans and they are doing something that has been long overdue in that city, and that is creating an outlet for the plethora of talent residing in the metro area. We felt that having two teams in New Orleans will offer a chance to get these players, well, playing, at a high level. Also we may have done it to hopefully create a little derby between Motagua and the Fire. Who doesn't love a cross city derby?
Everyone loves a derby. When did the process on getting the GCPL really get going, and what were some of the hurdles you had to clear?
The process actually started with the birth of the Louisiana Premier League. My eyes were bigger than my stomach at that time and my intent was to start with the GCPL right away. I guess 'go big or go home' was my thought process. Luckily my partner in crime, Chad Vidrine, former Adult VP of the LSA (Louisiana Soccer Association), told me to take things slow. It was his advice to start out small, gain the interest of the teams and show them the value in having a league that features the best talent in the state. Our first year was a bumpy ride but at the end of the season our teams were excited to get started with the second season. Slowly but surely we were able to gain interest from other entities around the state and now, with the addition of Biloxi City FC, and the interest of other teams outside of Louisiana, we felt this was the perfect time to expand our brand and really "go big".
Our biggest hurdle, to be honest, is being a low budget league. Our teams aren't necessarily backed by owners with money to invest in the team. These are teams created from youth organizations or just men's teams who are interested in creating a "club culture" in their community. While some of our teams are starting to mirror what other successful minor league clubs are doing, we still have to be careful not to get too ahead of ourselves. We enjoy the organic approach to what we're trying to achieve, but patience is key to keep things afloat.
What do you consider to be the Gulf Coast region? I guess you could say, what states and areas you'd be willing to have teams from.
Any state that touches the Gulf of Mexico, with possibly the addition of Georgia. We've had interest from Texas, Alabama and Florida clubs thus far. The challenge is to incorporate any new teams into the league without travel being too excessive. We have plans set in place for all scenarios, so we're confident in expanding the league.
Are there areas or cities in those states that are showing the most interest? I know Mobile AFC have been very vocal about joining a regional league.
AFC Mobile is one of the clubs who have shown great interest in joining our league and we keep our line of communication open. Pensacola and Houston are two other major cities that have had clubs show interest. We're currently working with a group out of Pensacola who are looking to get started next year. There's been light interest from Decatur, Alabama and Jackson, Mississippi. But nothing more than offering information on the league.
Houston? Would not have expected that, but then again, I don't think of Houston as being near the coast, even though I know it is. How many teams do you have ready to go for the first season, and where are they located?
We have seven teams to start off our first year as the GCPL.
Motagua New Orleans - The two time LPL champions are back with us and are set to test themselves in a more regional environment. They had great success in 2015 and have a little sour taste in their mouths from an early US Open Cup exit.
Cajun Soccer Club - One of our first members and the first club that was created as an extension from their youth organization (Lafayette Youth Soccer Assocationa). Cajun SC has had success in both in-state and regional competitions. Lafayette has a great pool of talent and CSC is slowly but surely creating a culture that puts forth their best players.
Pool Boys FC - Another club created from a youth organization (Crossroads Soccer Association). Pool Boys was assembled and kept alive thanks to our current league president, Jeremy Poklemba. Based out of Alexandria, Louisiana, they're sort of unique to the scene in my opinion. When you say Alexandria, you don't think soccer. However, two out of the three colleges that have men's programs in Lousiana are in Alexandria, and Crossroads has actually been around and growing for some time now. So soccer definitely exist there. Their challenge is being the smallest market and growing support for the team.
Boca FC Knights - Boca joined us last year and made a statement to the rest of the league that Shreveport has the talent to compete. They represented Louisiana well in the 2016 Region III USASA National Cup and continue to build on what they have achieved thus far. Boca is our first club that was created for the sole purpose of joining our league, and yhey've been a great addition to the competition.
Louisiana Fire - The Louisiana Fire is another club extended from it's youth organization (Louisiana Fire Juniors), formerly known as the Chicago Fire Juniors of Louisiana. The Fire are arguably the best youth club in the state of Louisiana and have had some talented players feaure on their teams. Patrick Mullins with DC United, and Justin Portillo with Charleston Battery are the more notable names. Based out of Kenner, LA (New Orleans Metro) the Fire add another outlet for the New Orleans area and should offer a possible cross town derby with Motagua. Of course we don't want to promote that. We would rather that be something that grows organically.
Biloxi City FC - Our first club from outside Louisiana. Biloxi City approached us and were very determined to join our league. Their enthusiasm and ambition alone was enough for us to try and get them involved as soon as possible. The Biloxi/Gulfport area was definitely on our radar as we know the Mississippi Gulf Coast has talented players, and they also extend the league eastward, which is an area we want to expand to. I'm looking forward to seeing how they grow.
Rafters FC - No strangers to the lower league buffs. I reached out to Will Broyles, owner of the Rafters, as soon as they announced they were joining the NPSL, and he's been great about wanting to grow the game more in Louisiana. They're using this as a way to keep their local players competing at a high level while offering more soccer for their fans in Shreveport. Looking forward to possibly seeing a great atmosphere like they displayed over the summer.
I've noticed some other clubs, in the NPSL actually, starting Fall Leagues to get local guys more games and keep awareness up by not playing only in the summertime. Do you see the GCPL potentially filling that kind of need for teams to play more games regardless of current league?
Ultimately yes, we feel as though that at this level players are still developing and while the majority of the PDL and NPSL teams are filled with college players there are still a good bit of guys who are not playing in college, for what ever reason, but are just as skilled.
We hope that, in time, we are able to find a formula that allows for a 10 month schedule that fits in to the US Soccer pyramid.
How is the league helping teams prepare for playing on a larger, more regional scale?
I would like to think the structure of the league in itself is allowing for teams to get a small taste of what it takes to run a professional club. The GCPL is a low budget league for that reason. We want our teams to be able to sustain themselves and grow organically within their communities. We try our best to give each team exposure through our website and social media accounts. With that said we try to push our teams to test the waters outside of our state/region. Whether that be the US Open Cup, USASA Region III National Cup or friendlies vs NPSL, PDL or pro reserve/youth teams.
There are lot of options out there for amateur teams these days. NPSL and PDL are national, PLA and UPSL are regional for now, and depending on where you're at, there are really strong state and even city leagues you can play in. Why is it important to have another option?
I think it's important for the players who wish to continue to play competitively to have a chance to do so. There are plenty of local city leagues that are fortunate enough to have a plethora of talent and are able to keep the level of play high. For the areas that aren't so fortunate this is where a possible statewide or regional competition comes in to play. It's definitely a great time in American amateur soccer right now. A lot of interest for these more competitive, well organized leagues is really taking off.
Interest does seem to be at an all time high people looking to start teams and join leagues. I know that in the last couple of weeks, the UPSL out on the West Coast got enough teams to actually create two separate divisions with promotion and relegation between them. If I'm remembering correctly, isn't that one of the goals with the GCPL, to grow state leagues and give them something regional to aspire to?
Yes, this is something that we would eventually like to have happen in our region. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle being our main area of focus.
What kind of advantages can you offer to teams in the Gulf Region looking for a higher level of competition that they won't get from playing in a national league?
We're trying to create a model that replicates the national league, but at a much lower cost. We want true grassroots clubs to take a chance at being that outlet for competitive players in their communities. Alexandria, Louisiana is a very small town that the NPSL/PDL would never look into unless someone was willing to lose $100k. However, currently there's a local visionary who runs the youth club and sees the value in creating a next level outlet for the players in their city, extending the competitive field for the youth players in his club along with offering something more than your Sunday league completion.
With our model, they can gradually build on this project and organically grow. Are they making loads of money? Probably not, but are they losing a $100k investment? Are they offering this new, shiny toy to the locals and getting their attention only to fold a year or two later, further amplifying the notion that soccer cannot survive in a small town such as Alexandria? No, their approach is solely focused on their players and building that foundation that there is a higher level of play beyond the Sunday leagues and the youth level.
The rest that comes along with operating an amateur/semi pro outfit will organically find it's place and slowly the community will grow with the club instead of being sold the club. Now I say that with no ill intentions towards the clubs that have succeeded with that approach. I do admire what clubs like Detroit City FC, Chattanooga and even our own Rafters FC are doing. I follow those clubs closely to see how they do so well and what they do to succeed. I guess you can say we're looking out for the little guys.
American soccer needs more people looking out for the little guys. The more GCPL's, PLA's and UPSL's we can get going, the better. Let's do a little bit of dreaming. Best case scenario, where is the GCPL in five years?
I see the best case scenario for us is continuing to build on what we have already achieved and sustaining it. One of the main struggles with amateur soccer in the US is that many clubs and teams form, but they tend to fold within a few years due to the lack of becoming a part of their community. Especially in our region. These sort of clubs can't survive without support and it's definitely one of the biggest challenges for our teams. So for me I would say in 5 years I would like to have expanded into the other 2 gulf states (Alabama and Florida) and possibly Georgia with another 10-20 teams involved with all of our current clubs firing on all cylinders.
We have some news that will be coming out shortly that sort of puts us in a position to be a little more aggressive with approaching clubs in those areas. Again, we're patiently playing our cards right.
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Well, I'll be keeping my eyes and ears open for that news. Jonathan, thanks again for taking the time to help make this happen. Remember, if you are enjoying the weekly content coming out on AP you can Follow AP on Twitter, or Like AP on Facebook. And if you want make sure you never miss an interview, and want to read articles before everyone else, click here and sign up for the Newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road.
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