"Playing in competitive games is the only way the players can train and develop."
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Hello again and welcome back to AP! First off, thank you to the new AP Patrons, Matt Boullt and Jake Mercer, whose support helped us reach our Patron goal to bring back the AP Power Rankings! Some big news for soccer earlier this week, the potential first round match ups for USL teams in the Open Cup just came out, and there are some great potential match ups. Kingston Stockade could host Louisville City, FC Cincinnati vs Detroit City in Ohio, and Sacramento Republic vs San Francisco City could all happen. Let's hope that they do!
Today's interview is a first. No, it's not the first club I've interviewed from California. It's the first club I've interviewed that has won promotion in the UPSL. Lionside FC stormed through the Championship Conference last season, setting a record for goals scored and points total. Currently they are dealing with the adjustment to playing a division higher, and have 2 points through 3 games, sitting 1 point clear of relegation. It's going to be an interesting season for these guys! Check it out.
Tell readers a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Lionside FC?
I'm Bilge Coskun, I'm originally from Izmir, Turkey and I co-own Lionside FC with my twin brother, Onur Coskun. I live in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. I'm a real estate broker with Engel & Völkers, LA-South Bay.
How did you come to be a fan of soccer, and what got you interested in starting a team?
I was born and raised in Turkey where the sport is a main part of your experience growing up and your choice of club is passed down generation to generation, in my case Galatasaray. It truly is a religion there and people do not change the club they're a fan of for any reason, including marriage.
Right before I moved back to Los Angeles, I had my first experience managing the adult team I was playing on in Scottsdale, Arizona, taking it over from a friend. I managed it for one season right before moving here in 2010. After being invited to play on two teams in our local adult league, South Bay Sports League, in Redondo Beach and seeing a huge void in leadership, I told my brother, 'why don't we do this?' The problem was we didn't know a single soccer player in Los Angeles.
What's the origin story beyond Lionside FC? How has this club come about?
Picking up where we left off, it took us 5 months to recruit enough players for our first 11's team. After competing one season under the name Galacticos, then as a single 7 v 7 team in the South Bay Sports League at Aviation for one season, we adopted the name Lionside FC and played for 2 more seasons in 7 v 7 on Saturdays in 2011. Afterwards, we took a 2 year hiatus from competition due to travel, business and family commitments. However, during this time, we still organized our famous weekly Lionside pick-up games at Campus El Segundo Field where we built our pool of players one-by-one with the vision we would turn this club into reality.
Then from May 2014 to August 2014, we officially rolled out 5 teams in total back-to-back at South Bay Sports League in Redondo Beach, four 7 v 7 teams and our 11's team that eventually became the UPSL squad. After competing for 2 years continuously with 5 teams, we brought on two more teams under our umbrella which included a reserve 11's team to our premier 11's team. After winning the top division and league championships 3 out of the last 4 seasons there with our legendary premier squad, we took it to the United Premier Soccer League back in September.
And here we are now: undefeated champions of the UPSL's Western Conference Championship Division in our inaugural season.
Lionside is the first California team in UPSL history to win promotion. How did it feel to accomplish that, especially in your teams first UPSL season?
On the night of our trophy celebration, and when I was holding that trophy in my hands, I truly understood the meaning of the word "surreal," John. It was an emotional moment mainly because it's something that we worked so hard to achieve and we've gone about it on such a different path. To see that come to fruition was a true validation of what we have been doing and the way we've been doing it.
When it comes to joining the UPSL, what about the league stood out to you and convinced you that it was where you wanted the team to play?
We looked at different options for leagues when it came to entering the space. Considering where we are as a growing club, we decided that UPSL was the right partner for us on this path given its own meteoric growth, its promotion and relegation model combined with the full year competition calendar, and the location of the teams contributing to lower travel expenses for the club.
Do you think it's really important for players to be able to play year round, rather than just the summer?
It's the only way the players can train and develop, John. By playing in competitive games throughout the year, as opposed to just the fall for college players. Playing for 3 months and not getting competitive games for the remaining 8 months can really hamper the player in a critical time of development
Now that you've been promoted, what are you looking to accomplish to not just consider the season a success, but to make sure you stay up and don't go right back down?
Our intention from the early days on with Lionside FC was to leave a legacy with our club and our playing style. So, it is very much our intention to make an impact and have an influence on our fans and the followers of the Pro-Premier Division of the UPSL.
Are there any clubs in particular that you're really looking forward to playing, and even establishing rivalries with?
We are looking forward to playing the entire field of competition that the Pro-Premier Division offers and we look forward to the challenge that awaits us. As far as rivalries, having seen rivalries up close and personal growing up as a fan of the sport in Turkey and having developed our own set of rivalries in the adult league we have been in, we believe that rivalries develop organically on their own accord, and are not something you intend to happen with a particular club.
In terms of players, who are the two or three guys on the team people interested in lower league soccer should be keeping an eye on?
Benny Estes, our starting striker, "9" scored 23 goals in 19 games for us in our championship season and also bagged 7 assists to go along with that which accounts for 30 of the 78 goals we scored this past season
Refugio "Cuco" Lopez, 25 years old, is our starting left attacking player who can also double up as a striker in a pinch. He scored 11 goals and provided 4 assists in our inaugural season in the UPSL.
Ruben Soria, our 18 year old center-back who plays at Santa Monica College during the college season and has cemented an important role for himself at such a ripe age in our high caliber and experienced defensive line with the likes of former pro-player and team captain Matt Stevenson and Matt Dagilis, a 2010 Division 1 champion with Akron.
Manny Otira, our UK born stalwart center midfielder who's the exemplary midfielder with his work ethic and communication on the pitch. The leading assist provider on our team with 11 assists for the season.
Man, you guys had a high powered offense last season. How have you built that kind of attacking mindset into your team? Is that all the coach, the players you brought in, a combination of both?
It's a combination of every aspect of the game that we strive to excel in John that produces the kind of offensive output you're seeing, a sheer collective force that we harp on with our club. Obviously, coaching has a lot to do with it but it's also the type of player that we target and recruit that fit our team philosophy.
If you could make the culture and style of Lionside FC like any another club anywhere in the world, what club would you model it after and why?
It's no surprise to hear this name from us: Galatasaray. What this club has achieved in its history given where it's from and defying all the odds to get there is the kind of history we're out to make as a club here in the US.
Kind of figured Galatasary was who you'd go with. Let's wrap this up with some short questions. What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
Premier League, Manchester City.
Favorite soccer players, one past, one present.
Zinedine Zidane, Kevin De Bruyne.
Do you have any books or podcasts, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend to people reading this?
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
If you could meet one person from soccer history, who would it be?
Where can people find out more about you and the team online?
Our website address is lionsidefc.com where interested players are welcome to submit inquiries for tryouts and we're active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
What would you say to someone asking you why they should get out there and support their local non-league team, like Lionside FC?
We're a great story they should follow, from a club that started completely from scratch 8 years ago in our local area, building ourselves to a presence of 7 teams and over 50 players in the local adult league, then turning into a pro-development club while keeping our simultaneously keeping our presence in that adult league, going undefeated en route a championship in our inaugural season in UPSL, breaking the record for most points in a single season in league history, getting promoted to a higher division in the pro-development landscape, and becoming a rising star on the US Soccer national stage. What a story. Most importantly, we have the mission of making a palpable impact on the US soccer national landscape.
Bilge, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the content I'm putting out, please consider supporting us on Patreon by Clicking Here. Or you can click here to Follow me on Twitter, or here to Like the page on Facebook. 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.
Read last weeks interview: American Soccer Summit: Tim Kelly of Chattanooga FC