Many emotions surround the announcement of a second lower-division soccer team in Greenville, South Carolina. Let’s work through them.
In 2015, Disney-Pixar released a film titled Inside Out. The movie focuses on five personified emotions as the central characters in the film: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. Well, on March 13, 2018, I saw these and many more emotions explode throughout soccer fans in my town of Greenville, SC with the announcement of a USL D3 franchise coming to the Upstate.
I have to be honest. In the hours that have passed since owners announced Greenville as the third founding member of their upcoming Division 3 league, I have experienced many of the same emotions my fellow soccer-loving family has. I have struggled: A new team in NPSL has claimed the allegiance of many of us, but this is the next level.
My hope is to unpack the day’s emotions in this article to hopefully provide you some kinship, some perspective, and eventually, a call to action.
I have been a soccer fan for most of my 33 years on this planet. But for most of my life, I never knew anything about lower division soccer in the United States. If you have followed my work here at SNST in the last several months, you know that I am in the minority here as an Atlanta United fan. My first introduction to lower division soccer came about as a result of a little podcast based out of Atlanta known as Soccer Down Here.
So last year, on family vacation, I decided to check out a Myrtle Beach Mutiny game in the USL’s Premier Development League (PDL). I was hooked. I loved the raw talent on the field, the unwavering support on the sideline (no matter how “big” the crowd was), and the way the community embraced the team as an extension of themselves.
That is when I knew we needed a team in Greenville.
There were many nights I sat at home and tried to think of the richest people I knew and how I could convince them to invest in soccer in Greenville. There was even a phase where I wondered if we could crowdfund the money to launch a team and develop a fan-ownership structure.
It was at about this time that a petition was started by some of the folks over at the Greenville American Outlaws chapter to bring USLD3 to Greenville. I was ALL IN! I wanted to help. This was the cause I wanted to fight for. So I signed the petition, voted on the USL website, and used the #usl2gvl tag on every social media I have. And then, for the longest time… silence.
I knew that the league was not set to announce any teams soon, but I desperately wanted soccer in Greenville.
Enter Greenville FC.
It was the Monday night after Thanksgiving when the NPSL announced their newest expansion team was coming to MY CITY! This was the dream! Even the USL2GVL fans were claiming victory! I had to be a part of it.
About a week ago, I got early word that USLD3 was set to make an announcement in Greenville on March 13th. There was an immediate mixture of emotions. I was fortunate enough to attend the press conference on Tuesday and meet some of the folks at USL and in the local ownership group.
After my conversation with Steven Short, Vice President for USL Division III, I felt the excitement they had ABOUT MY CITY.
I left the announcement Tuesday morning once again filled with JOY. Something I had been hoping for and dreaming of had come true TWICE in the course of four months. There are now two soccer teams in a city that had none at Thanksgiving.
Joy is a funny thing. It is a vulnerable emotion; it is one that you must hold with open hands. Unfortunately, that can open an opportunity for others to rob your joy from you.
After the press conference concluded, I decided to head to Greenville’s beautiful downtown and enjoy lunch and a coffee at one of our many amazing eateries. While there, I made the mistake of jumping on Twitter and Facebook to see what my Greenville soccer family thought of the big news.
There was, of course, a plethora of responses. Some were excited to have two teams in Greenville. Others were confused and thought this announcement meant that Greenville FC was changing leagues next season. Still others were angry because, well, reasons.
I suddenly found myself getting sad for as many reasons as there were reactions to the news. So, out of my SADNESS, let me try to clarify a few things about what today’s announcement entails.
- Greenville FC and Greenville’s unnamed USLD3 teams are separate entities. They are owned by separate groups. They will play in different leagues and divisions. They will have different names, kits, players, and probably play in different venues.
- The USL’s Division III league is professional (meaning that they pay their players) and will be seeking sanctioning this summer. The NPSL, where Greenville FC plays, is considered semi-professional because some teams pay their players (professional) and other teams do not (amateur). As far as I am aware, Greenville FC has not said whether or not they intend to pay players so the question as to whether they are “professional” or “amateur” is unknown. However, they have from the beginning referred to themselves as a “professional” team, and there was a tweet referring to college students not being on the team because of reasons that would become apparent. College players cannot be paid obviously, and they risk losing their eligibility if they play on a team with paid players. All of that makes me assume that Greenville FC will, in fact, be a “professional” team.
The reality is that these two teams are different. But, and I am only basing this on first impressions, they are both saying the right things. Compare the first tweets for each team:
Obviously, Greenville FC has had more time to “prove it,” and they have done an amazing job at that. They are doing things the right way. And while there is nothing to point to for this USL side yet, they made statements in the press conference that sounded eerily similar to the approach that Greenville FC has taken.
So will they compete with each other to each other’s deteriment? Will the USL side recognize that the NPSL side exists at all?
The thing about ANGER is that it often breeds more ANGER. I do not consider myself an ANGRY person. I rarely raise my voice at anything outside of a soccer match. My wife and I do not fight. But when I become surrounded by ANGRY people, I get irrationally ANGRY about things that I should not be that ANGRY about.
For me, ANGER is an outgrowth of sadness. I get the angriest when I feel like people are being treated unfairly. Today, I watched people attack this new team and attack other fans who were happy with the announcement of this new team.
My feelings about the announcement aside (because honestly they were still very muddled), I found this unjust.
Neither team needs my help to defend itself, but I offer my help as someone who wants to see soccer grow in Greenville. Other fans probably do not need my help either, but I offer it because I want those of us who love this beautiful game to come together around this sport.
This last four months has been amazing for me. I moved to Greenville in 2009 and began dating my wife in 2010. The entire time I have been in this town, my friend circle has been made up of either spouses of her friends, or friends we share. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. I love my friends.
But in the last four months, I have begun to develop friends that are mine. I have found people who love soccer like I do, not merely tolerate it as my wife does to humor me. This sport has brought so many amazing and diverse people into my life and I am a better person for it.
So when I see something as trivial as having two soccer teams in once small city divide those who love the game the most, I cannot let that go without speaking up and getting ANGRY that this healthy dynamic is being threatened.
FEAR comes when joy leaves and sadness turns to anger.
I FEAR a split in the fan base.
I FEAR the mob mentality taking over.
I FEAR an unnecessary divide.
I FEAR that folks will feel like they have to “choose a side.”
I FEAR that my honest, heartfelt, and what I intended to be unbiased and civil words in this piece will cause me to lose some of the traction I have gained in trying to help make soccer in Greenville a success.
But what I FEAR most is letting my FEAR hold me back from doing everything I can to bring this community together. Because the dream I had last summer still exists. And now it has come to life in two separate entities. That should be cause not for FEAR… but for joy.
I woke up Tuesday morning at 4:00am. I do this sometimes when I am excited. I have a hard time sleeping through the night. The joy I had knowing that, at the end of this day, there would be two soccer teams in my city was beyond measure.
I sit here on Tuesday night at 9:00pm still cranking out this article that seems to keep going despite my best efforts to tie a bow on it. Even the Daylight Savings Time has not kept the sun up this late. It was dark when I arose. It is dark now.
That word DISGUST seems harsh. It seems a little edgy to describe what I am feeling right now. Perhaps I am somewhere between DISGUST and exhaustion, and it’s only the first day of this Greenville soccer war.
The joy I had anticipating the day has long since passed, but it should still be there.
Soccer in Greenville took a huge step forward today. But right now, in my social sphere, I feel that we have retreated. We have moved backwards.
But there is HOPE.
We can course-correct. Wednesday is a new day, and Thursday is a new day, and perhaps cooler heads will prevail by the weekend.
Disgust can fade and joy can climb back into our lives if we let it.
But we have to want that.
Self-examination may be one of the hardest things a person can do. If you have gotten this far, you were able to have a front row seat to my own self-examination on this day, March 13, 2018, a day that USL deemed Greenville worthy of a Division 3 soccer club.
Now some application, for myself, but hopefully you will consider these things with me:
- Greenville, we do not have to choose. We should not have to choose. I get it. I truly do. Some of us have built genuine relationships with people associated with one team or the other. There are people involved that I truly consider friends. But this is not about one or the other. We are so lucky. Just go check out the comments on the posts that USL put out teasing the announcement today. There are cities around this country desperate to have a team of their own. And we have TWO! This should not be a problem in our eyes. It should be a blessing.
- I want the United States to win a World Cup. I truly believe that the way to make that happen is to grow the game organically through grassroots, lower division soccer. Now our town gets to be a part of that at the third and fourth division levels.
- This city has passion. The fact that our little city in upstate South Carolina went from zero soccer teams to two soccer teams in less than four months tells you everything you need to know about the culture of our city and the love for this game. Both of these organizations and leagues wanted to be here in Greenville. The same passion that has caused some cracks to show today is the passion that drew these ownership groups and leagues to us. Do not suppress the passion, just redirect it towards growing the game.
- More soccer, more competition, is always better. These two teams are not your children. You can have a preference for one over the other. You can develop and share your opinions, constructively, with others. I just want to see us embrace having two teams in our lives. This town can support both of these teams. I already have my Greenville FC Season Tickets. When they release merchandise, I am going to spend way too much money on it (don’t tell my wife). And next year, when this D3 team launches, I will buy their tickets and their merchandise as well. I have seen the passion here. I know we have enough love to go around.
I know that was a lot to get through. It felt a little like group therapy didn’t it? You may not have met me yet, and if that is the case I cannot wait to meet you at a Mill Town Operatives meet-up or a Greenville FC game this season, but I hope you know that this was a labor of love.
Love for Greenville FC. Love for Greenville’s USLD3 team. Love for soccer.
And most of all, love for you, the soccer fan. You, we, have the passion that is the critical piece towards accomplishing our common goals. Work together towards those goals… and anything is possible.