"I’ve been offered plenty of higher level jobs, but this is where I want to help make a change."
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Welcome, welcome AP readers! Today is a real treat for you, and I'm not going to keep you long before letting you dive in to this latest interview. I want to preface by saying that if AP winds up switching to a podcast format down the road, Brendan Keyes will be one of the first guests, if not the first. This interview is just a portion of everything we discussed, and it's fantastic. Check it out.
Tell me about yourself. Who you are, where you’re from, what your role is with the Texas Premier Soccer League.
My name is Brendan Keyes, and I’m the owner and commissioner of the Texas Premier Soccer League and Houston Hurricanes. I run soccer academies as well. I’m originally from Ireland, and live in Texas now.
What’s the ‘origin story’ of the TPSL?
I started Galveston Pirates 6 years ago in the NPSL, and we had a strong team. Our problem was that I was spending way to much money on a 3 month season, which was not long enough for my liking. Stuck it out for 2 years, then moved the team to Houston when the opportunity arrived, because I played with the Houston Hurricanes in the United Soccer League. Looking back, that was a big mistake. In Galveston we were the only team, in any sport, in town. Moving to Houston in the NPSL lead to a lot more competition. We’re still here, but it's hard.
I decided it wasn't worth spending all that money for only a three month season. So I talked to the other teams in my division about starting a league and we all jumped ship. I only charged $3,000 to join rather than $12,000 for NPSL or $75,000 for PDL. We don’t have such stringent requirements as the other leagues, like having your own stadium, although some teams do. We are cheaper and strive for the same level of professionalism while our season runs from September to April.
That's how I started the league, and it’s been great and we’re heading into our fourth year. This last year was hard, doing this is not easy. When you have a team in the league you run and administer the league it's really draining on you, and when we have enough teams we might withdraw or I’ll hand the team off to someone else. Everything else in the league I do myself: promotions, marketing and generally running the league with little help, driving all over the state and meeting people face to face. I’ve put over 200,000 miles on my truck in just a few years.
Another reason the league exists is because I want to provide a path for young players. We want to give them a platform to move on in the game. We have a problem with soccer here in America in coaching methods, in that they coach the technical skill out of the kids. They don’t encourage skills. I run skills camps, and we encourage kids to take other players on, and not encouraging that is ruining a lot of players and the game here as a whole.
I’ve been offered plenty of higher level jobs, but this is where I want to help make a change. Better coaching across the board is needed. The level of coaching in MLS is a joke, there are higher level coaches in the lower levels, but a lot of good coaches don’t get the chance to move up. You get fired in MLS, and another team hires you.
Your league had 8 teams playing in season three. How many teams do you expect to have playing in the 2016/17 season?
Possibly 9 teams in season four. We were going to have 9 this year but one of the new teams didn’t get everything lined up in time and will not start this upcoming season. Started with 4 teams, and my goal was to have 10 by season 5, then work towards having two divisions. Ultimate league goal is to have four divisions with 24 teams total, to reduce travel cost.
People back home don’t realize how big Texas is. When I tell them it's bigger than the UK and Ireland together they think I’m nuts because of the travel, driving 8 hours for a soccer game. I didn’t start this league to make money. I started because teams and owners were coming to me asking me to lead them and do something better, though obviously I need to make a living as soccer is my job.
I seem to remember reading somewhere when the TPSL started that the league is hoping to one day have promotion and relegation. I’m remembering things correctly, and if so, is that part of the league’s long term vision?
That’s still the goal. I’d love to have the 2 divisions with ten teams, Premier and Championship, which teams could come in to at lower cost making it more accessible with opportunity to get promoted. Then top 2 will go up, bottom 2 will go down. Being from Europe and having traveled the world, America is missing out on that system.
Now we can play in the US Open Cup as a US Club Soccer sanctioned league, and that will allow us to play MLS, NASL, USL Pro and NPSL teams down the road. We’ve drawn in some old pro’s too, like Gary Doherty, and we have a guy from India, Pratik Shinde, that my family helped put through college and has ISL experience coming over to play this upcoming season. That kids like a son to me.
What do you consider your biggest failure and greatest success with the TPSL, and what did you learn from it?
Biggest failure. I think what I should have done and didn’t do when I started was this. All the teams that broke away I asked to put some money into launching the league. That didn’t happen, but where I made a mistake was that I should have gone to an outsider rather than the teams because I was the only one taking it seriously. I Wound up going it alone. I’m still looking for investment.
With the amount I was paying to play and run a team in NPSL I could start my own league, but I should have waited a year and found outside investment instead of paying out of my own pocket. I lost a lot of money doing that. It’s never been about making a ton of money, but I want to make a living.
Greatest success. A couple, bringing players in and sending them up the ladder to the majors which we have done many times, and making the decision to start my own league . NPSL doesn’t give you anything for a 3 month season. They don’t do a great job promoting your team, really not much for what you pay them. We do that for all our teams. We do a business plan for any team that wants our help, free social media management for all our teams. Facebook, Twitter, the works. New teams coming in now pay $3,500 to join and you get one set of uniforms for free. I’m accessible to all my teams at any time and send out sponsorship packages and help teams anyway I can. We started with 4 teams, and grown to possibly 9 in our fourth year. I also recently bought land to build a home ground for the Hurricanes.
There are many times I’ve wanted to quit, but I haven’t. And it's been worth it.
Where do you hope to see the TPSL in 5 years?
I’d like to see us with north, south, east and west divisions. Four conferences of 8 to 10 teams with promotion and relegation. No one is doing this at a high level, just at local levels. It’s about generating that same level of excitement at the bottom as you do at the top, playing to win and go up or down. The relegation battles make it more exciting for everyone involved.
We'll do playoffs for the title at the end of the season with the top 4 teams, too. My team lost last season in the final. Austin Real Cuhuatemoc has done the double recently. Most of the teams in my league are NPSL level teams. Austin recently beat Corinthians SA recently in a friendly.
Hardest part at this level is the cost of travelling, but that’s something the 4 divisions will help fix.
What’s your favorite league and/or team to watch?
Celtic is my team, have been since I was kid traveling to Dublin. Actually traveled over from Dublin to play for them as a youth but didn’t make it. Broke my heart. Lots of kids go to Dublin to try out for Celtic and I was one of many.
Favorite league is EPL. Lived near Arsenal after my parents broke up, so I grew up with that league, though Arsenal were just the team that was close. I’m all about Celtic.
What’s your favorite book, soccer related or otherwise?
Noel Muhall gave me a book called Coaching the Beautiful Game. He's the author.
Favorite player. One past, one present.
Present, Lionel Messi.
Past, Liam Brady is a childhood favorite. Played at Arsenal. Henrik Larsson is my ultimate favorite Celtic player legend.
Would you rather attend the World Cup, or the Euros?
The World Cup is the pinnacle. But having said that, the reason I like the Euros better is because it’s more competitive, top to bottom. You don’t get really weak teams at the Euros.
Why should people care about the TPSL, and the lower leagues in general?
People like me and the other guys who start these kind of leagues are the true backbone of American soccer. Without minor league teams and guys like myself you’ll never get the next Ronaldo or Messi. It's not guys coming out of college who will be that, it’ll be a kid from the grassroots. This level produces the great stories. Stories like mine. I never made it as a player, but here I am, running a league and a team and helping produce these kinds of players.
Brendan, thanks for taking the time to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the content I'm putting out, I'd encourage you to click here to Follow me on Twitter, or here to Like the page on Facebook. And if you'd like to read these interviews before everyone else, and make sure you aren't missing anything, 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. Make sure to spread the word by sharing these interviews, telling friends about the blog, those kind of things. I can't accomplish my goal of maximum exposure for all levels of the American Soccer Pyramid without YOU. Until next time, Stay Loyal, Support Local.