For the first time in 15 years, soccer returned to the Upstate. But it was not all sunshine and rainbows.
2018 was a banner year for soccer in Greenville.
For the first time in 15 years, soccer returned to the Upstate. Not everything was rainbows and sunshine, though. There has been some frustration and heartache over the sport’s growth in my town.
For just a moment before Soccer ‘n’ Sweet Tea closes its doors for the year, let us look back at the year that was in the Greenville soccer landscape.
Two teams, one city
No doubt the biggest story in the Greenville soccer-sphere in 2018 was the launch of not one, but two soccer clubs. For some of us here, there was immense excitement at having this much access to soccer, but for others it was painful.
Some feel like they have to choose. Some feel a sense of loyalty or connection to one team over the other. Some see the two teams, and leagues, as direct competition against each other.
I understand and respect those that carry these opinions. I happen to see it differently.
The day the we all learned about the team that would eventually become Greenville Triumph SC coming to town, many people felt hurt. Many of them lashed out. I felt a whole range of emotions and did my best to chronicle them here at Soccer ‘n’ Sweet Tea with the help of “Inside Out” gifs.
But that was not the end of it. Far from it.
While this was happening in Greenville, another situation went down in Chattanooga, with a USLD3 team launching in the footprint of the NPSL giant Chattanooga FC. While there are similarities in the two situations, there are also massive differences. I did my best to lay those out and issue a call to my fellow Greenvillians to shine a light for soccer fandom in America.
We are still getting used to our new reality here in Greenville. We will definitely experience more growing pains in 2019. But for today, as we close out the season here, I am choosing to celebrate and look forward to the bright future soccer has in this city.
One of the most special things for me about 2018 was being able to be a part of a soccer supporter’s group for the first time. Back in undergrad, I was actually the president our our student fan group [Shout out to the Mossy Creek Maniacs!] but have not experienced anything like that since.
Enter the Mill Town Operatives.
MTO certainly experienced growing pains themselves as a first year group with very little time to organize. However, they are working towards coming back stronger than ever in 2019.
For many who attended games, they pointed to the Operatives as one of the best parts of the game day experience. It was such a joy for me to have helped found, name and lead the group in this inaugural season.
But Mill Town meant more to me than just getting back some of my college fandom glory. For the first time since I moved to Greenville nine years ago, I developed friendships and a community of my own outside the context of my family’s friends. This collection of people includes folks I never would have otherwise come across, but now they are like family to me.
Fellow Operatives: I love you! I cannot wait for our next family reunion.
Big name coach
If the Triumph were looking to be a force in the USL’s newest league, they certainly took a step in that direction by naming USMNT legend John Harkes as their inaugural head coach.
While Harkes did not come with a long history of coaching, his one post as head coach was as the inaugural man in charge at FC Cincinnati, where he laid the foundation for a team that is now MLS-bound.
But Harkes brings so much more to the table for the Triumph.
He brings instant credibility, attention and marketability to a franchise looking to establish itself as a major player in USL League One. I was one of many who were absolutely floored to see him step out onto the stage and be announced as the coach. It seemed like such a huge swing from this brand-new team.
But then I was able to sit down and talk to the man himself, and it all made sense.
Harkes has fallen in love with Greenville in the time that his daughter, Lauren, has been playing at nearby Clemson University. He has a passion for growing the game and sees this new team and league as an opportunity to push the sport forward in this country. He sees the passionate fan base and ownership around the Triumph and wants to be a part of building the game in the upstate.
We will have to wait until the team actually kicks its first ball in 2019 to make any kind of definitive statement on the success of this move, but from the promotion and establishment side of things, this was a home run!
Supporter of the Year
Without question, the best thing to come out of the Greenville soccer universe this year was Lugnut. If you have no clue who or what I am talking about, where have you been?
Honestly, Lugnut is everything that is right in the soccer world. In a time where everyone is divided about the “right” way to grow the game in America, Lugnut reminds each of us about the purity of a love for the game.
He knows nothing about USL vs. NPSL. He does not understand promotion and relegation. He is not even that aware of what a “rivalry” entails. In fact, Greenville FC’s biggest rivals Asheville City SC have tried to lure the little man to their side.
No, Lugnut simply loves the game. He loves to watch. He loves to play. He loves to cheer. He loves to bang the drums. His love is pure.
And that is why so many were drawn to him. It is why so many nominated, voted, and pushed others to get him awarded the NPSL’s Supporter of the Year.
May Lugnut help each and every one who reads this remember why you love this game.
A new league
When the Greenville Triumph announced their presence in the soccer-sphere, they were a part of USL Division 3. We were all promised that would not be the final name for this new league but many were left to speculate on what the ultimate rebrand would look like.
The fine folks here at SNST were way ahead of the game and noticed the trademarks that would ultimately shape the new brand identity all the way back in November 2017.
Ultimately, USLD3 became USL League One and will now exist under a cohesive USL brand that also includes the USL Championship (formerly USL) and USL League Two (formerly USL PDL). But what does that all mean for the teams in these respective new leagues?
Well, aside from a unified presence, cross-promotion and cohesive marketing from the USL side of things, it could ultimately create an avenue for something many in this country have wanted for a long time: promotion and relegation.
I actually wrote about the possibilities shortly after the rebrand was announced back in September.
Regardless of what happens, it is exciting that Greenville gets to be a part of growing this new league that will occupy a Division III position that has been vacant in recent years.
Winning is not everything, but it does feel good. And while Greenville FC did not have a ton of victories in its first season, it did have two that felt extra special.
Before the season started, the owners of Greenville FC and Asheville City SC got together with the leadership of the respective supporters’ groups to dream and plan about the rivalry to come between these two teams.
Ultimately, the Carolina Clasico was born.
Two games. Aggregate score. Even the supporters would get involved in deciding the winner.
Game one in Asheville went to Greenville FC thanks to late-game heroics. Game two in Greenville was a goal-fest that ultimately favored the home team. The Mill Town Operatives did their part as well to sweep the South Slope Blues in the tailgate challenges.
With that, Greenville FC was able to bring home their first trophy for the fans.
They just missed out on the postseason in their inaugural campaign, but so many of us relish the fact that we were able to win a trophy this season. It was the perfect way to close out the home games at Eugene Stone and was such a testament to the team, the fan base and the community as a whole.
TTFN: Ta ta for now
As sad as it is to say goodbye to 2018, it just means that the 2019 season is getting closer by the day. While SNST is going on hiatus, that does not mean that all the Greenville coverage is going away. Honestly, it can’t. There is going to be a ton of news to follow, particularly as the Greenville Triumph continue to make moves leading up to the season.
As always, you can follow Yeah, THAT Soccer Show for podcast coverage of all the big moves. But for those of you who prefer the written word (like our editor who has personally gone #TeamNoPod), I am happy to announce the launch of GVL Soccer for all your off-season Greenville soccer coverage.
Join me over there during the cold months until we dust off the tea pitcher next spring.
Thanks so much for reading our Greenville coverage in 2018. Be sure to subscribe to the SNST newsletter below, join us in the Slack, and look forward to 2019 with all of us soccer fans in the Carolinas. #GTID