My#2020 #NewYear #Resolutions

Chelsea fans have to be up and at ’em early.

The first day of 2020 brings us a full day of Premier League, thank goodness. Here’s the schedule and if for some unfathomable reason, TheBlackPitch.com is your main source of soccer insights AND you’re a Chelsea fan, I hope you have some other reminder to wake up early for the first match, because we’re only hours away at this point, and you’re likely still out in the streets, whooping it up and drinking yourself into the abyss that was 2019.

PSA: Don’t drink and drive. If you’re gonna drink, don’t drive and if you’re gonna drive, don’t drink.

All times shown are Eastern

Of course, tomorrow (or today, depending on when you’re actually reading this) will be a good day to have NBC Sports Gold Premier League Pass. The Watford v. Wolves match should be interesting, as should the West Ham v. Bournemouth. It’ll be West Ham’s first match at home with newly-reappointed manager David Moyes. Typically, you’d expect a bit of a rebound bounce from a club bringing in a new manager, so we’ll see what the actual turnaround might look like for The Hammers. Of course, the standard NBCSN lineup will provide plenty of fun for the day, as I anticipate you, like me, won’t be leaving the couch.

2020 New Year’s Resolutions

The bigger thing I’ve been thinking about is resolutions for the new year, as it relates to my indulgence in soccer/football/the beautiful game. Here are my Top 5 Resolutions for 2020.

Make a better effort to consistently catch the NWSL and Women’s FA club matches. As much as I’ve caught matches here and there, both leagues haven’t been in my regular rotation as much as they should be. Part of this was tracking down a better way to watch, which I think I might have a solution for, but some of this really comes down to putting together a viewing calendar to make sure I’m not tuning in last minute, all of the time. I do this for Premier League, Bundesliga and MLS, so I simply need to add these leagues to the rotation.

See at least four of the Des Moines’ Menace’s home matches this season. I like the Menace. I have a ton of fun watching the lads, especially in recent seasons. Part of being a supporter of local soccer is getting out to the soccer you have in your community. Sometimes, and this is me being totally transparent, but our local club can be a bit of out-of-sight, out-of-mind for me, and remember, soccer is my favorite sport. Part of this is the ease of watching the bigger clubs with the better viewing options. While it allows me to be a soccer fan and digest a lot of matches, it also allows me to be a lazy fan. I have to be out supporting the community in which I live if I hope that we ever have a real chance at fostering a club in a larger league in the Des Moines area.

Regularly watch USL Championship and USL One matches on ESPN+. While these aren’t new additions to ESPN+ (I believe), I simply need to add them to the rotation. In recent months, my attention has turned to interests in the more localized/regional soccer options. These are all great clubs and I don’t mean this in any type of disrespect, but it’s simply easier to be a fan of the biggest clubs in the world. Soccer has to be, first and foremost, local for it to grow and flourish. So, while our Menace will be playing at the League Two level and I’ll have to see it in person, I can help the audience grow by watching the matches on ESPN+.

Watch at least half as many Sheffield Wednesday matches as I watch Chelsea FC matches. One of these days, the Owls will be in the Premier League. Then, my heart will be tugged into two parts. But, until that day, I need to do a better job keeping up with SW.

Finish hanging my new Chelsea FC and Sporting KC flags in my home office. Typical me. Received two brand-new, beautiful flags to hang in the home office, but both are sitting, folded neatly on my desk. There’s got to be a break in the action on New Year’s Day, right?

#USL teams that are doing it right.

Yes, another post about the #USL

Honestly, as a subscriber to ESPN+, I’m stoked to watch USL Championship and USL1 teams this season. And, in my opinion, there are a bunch of teams doing the right things to engage their club and community.

The Fun Teams: Here are a few teams that just look like a riot to follow and really build that fan experience.

  • Forward Madison FC: Are you part of the Flock? Seriously, try to wander this site and not fall in love with FMFC. You know you want to be a ‘Mingo. They have built something incredibly unique in this Wisconsin town and they’ll prove they’re no novelty.
  • Las Vegas Lights FC: What do you think of when you think of the Vegas strip? All of the lights have to come to mind. This colorful club is bringing a sense of energy to the community with the team’s choice of colors, but it is also building on the right foot with strong media content on the site and engaging social media. Almost makes me want to fan from afar. Considering Vegas is one of my favorite cities anyway, the odds are pretty good that I’ll catch a match in the near future.
  • New Mexico United: Forget for a moment my dissing of “state” named clubs. Honestly, New Mexico United rolls of the tongue better than any specific community in the state, other than maybe Santa Fe United. Regardless, this team took it to the near-end of Sirius XM’s battle of the jerseys and brought a killer look to the world competition. Again, what the team is doing with social media is creating a buzz and giving their supporters something to really sink their teeth into.

The Historical Names: These are the teams that are drenched in history and are leveraging it with their supporters.

  • Birmingham Legion FC: Yep, they dropped the city and are now just “Legion FC”, but they kept the iconic crest nearly the same. Honestly, they haven’t been around that long, but don’t let that confuse you. Just check out the “about the crest” pic from their site which drums up all sorts of historical feels.
  • Charleston Battery: Founded in 1993, the Battery is one of the oldest continuously operating professional soccer clubs in the United States, tied with the Richmond Kickers. To draw on history, check out their “Behind the Battery” web series.
  • Charlotte Independence: They’ve been around since 2014, but that doesn’t stop they from pushing that historical perspective. They have a whole section on their American Legion Memorial Stadium. Not too shaby.

The Player’s Teams: These are teams that put the players front and center.

  • Saint Louis FC: Just look at their website. That’s a nice large and literal image of Forward Kyle Grieg. The roster is front and center and news includes hot updates on signings and player status.
  • Hartford Athletic: Much like SLFC, player news and information is front and center. Video content on the site focuses on performance and recaps.

Can a guy dream a little bit? Ideas about a #DesMoines #USL home.

Birdseye View of a Proposed Soccer Development by Blackacre Development

There are very few things that excite me as much as the thought of a USL team finding a home in Des Moines. As news pops up here, here and here, the anticipation builds. In the spirit of not completely armchair quarterbacking this whole thing, and realizing I’m just a fan sitting in a comfortable chair in a suburban neighborhood of the Des Moines metro, I just have to throw out some ideas that I believe would be for the best of the development of a Des Moines club.

Design the stadium for capacity scaling. The reports suggest the stadium will be between 6,000 and 8,000 capacity. As of Week 33 in the USL Championship matches, the average attendance was 4,476. Now, building a stadium that has a much more capacity would leave a lot of empty seats. Imagine the last band you saw play in a venue like Wells Fargo. If the venue was half-full, you might think it is more indicative of the quality of the band, than the folks at Wells Fargo anticipating other larger attractions that could roll through. On the other hand, building the seating to be scaled would be appropriate. Watch a match at Nottingham Forest or Sheffield Wednesday and you’ll sometimes see the seats lowest to the pitch partitioned or covered with flags. This could be some ideal areas for signage/advertising, as the better seats are going to be at a second level anyway, as you’ll want more of that higher angle to properly see ball movement. Please don’t build a stadium that sits half-empty during match play.

Just name the club Des Moines FC or Des Moines SC. Create the connection between the club and the community. The best teams do this. Also, it’s something that everyone can get behind. Yes, I’m a Menace fan as much as anyone else and they have had an incredible history. But, I feel like this could be a fresh start and a giant canvas to build something even bigger. Des Moines has grown and evolved so much over the past twenty years. Allowing the club to live in the greatness that has evolved since would be an appropriate honoring of the work that’s gone into it. Also, it wouldn’t need to focus on any specific history of the community. It would simply celebrate the whole community. And, it doesn’t need to be the state’s club; it would be a Des Moines-area thing.

Here’s a freebie for a badge/crest/shield. A while back, I had a podcast called The Three Bridges Show. My buddy Pat designed it. I’d suggest something like this for the club badge. You can see it on the ends of scarves, on t-shirts and any other appropriate memorabilia. Simple, direct and classy.

From The Three Bridges Show

Mascots are for the children. Yeah, that’s harsh, but it’s true. Think of the role of any mascot in professional sports. It’s meant to take the edge off of a serious and high-pressure situation and help kids connect to the game. Soccer doesn’t need it. Diehards won’t appreciate it and more often than not, mascots become a focal point for mocking anyway.

Leave some space in the stadium for a band. Embrace the sounds of soccer culture. No one needs a playlist of today’s Top 40 hits. Have a section for local marching bands to lead the rhythm of play. Connect with high school music groups to come up with easy to remember club supporter chants. Create a songbook with chants from each of the CIML’s high school music bands/choirs. Put the band spot behind an end zone. Put concessions behind the opposite end zone.

Open concessions to local food trucks and restaurants go work. Set it up like the vendor spaces at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. If food trucks can work on the go or at a place like The Hall, it could work here and bring the local cuisine of Des Moines to its supporters and visiting guests.

Open a space for fans to hang out and celebrate the beautiful game. Yeah, Royal Mile, Keg Stand and The Library are good places to catch a match, but having a central, neutral spot to watch and share in the experience of competitions like the World Cup, the MLS playoffs and other international competitions (including MX, Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, EPL and EFL, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and more), would help bring fans from around the community together.

Don’t forget that a club begins with a community. The plans are impressive. Nothing that folks do around town is short of anything less that incredible. But, to make this club work, it needs the backbone of a community and the community’s support more than any fancy new stadium could foster. People have to believe in the club and see it as something more than entertainment. It has to represent them, because any soccer team in the world plays for its club and its supporters first.

Support the endeavor. With that, I’ll humbly step off the soapbox and get back to hot takes on the Premier League’s season. As a side note, if you haven’t already signed up to follow the progress of this initiative, head over to USL Pro Iowa and get signed up today. Not sure why the county list is so messed up when you select Iowa as your state, but I’m sure that’s an oversight. Programming forms is more difficult than you can imagine.

You should be watching the #USL this season

Yeah, there are a lot of leagues to capture your attention. Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A, MLS, MX. The list goes on and on. But, if you want to go full diehard US soccer fan in 2020, the league to watch is clearly going to be the USL.

Soccer, at its roots, begins with the community. Where the USL prevails above the MLS is that it is simply more connected with communities throughout the United States. With three levels of competition, plus an academy league, there is simply a team for nearly any community in the US to follow. And, with ESPN+ covering all the matches through 2022 (USL Championship and USL1), it makes it super easy to watch and follow any team, anywhere.

USL Championship

The USL Championship is one of the most successful professional soccer leagues in the world, reaching a population of more than 84 million and fueling the growth of the game across North America. In 2018, The Championship had the biggest season in its history, with almost 3 million fans attending games over the league’s regular season and postseason

USLSoccer.com

Favorite USL Championship Teams

  • As a Sporting KC fan in the MLS, I have to go with Sporting KC II, formerly Swope Park Rangers. Their branding switch allows existing SKC fans to take a look at the USL team, without much of an additional investment.
  • Tampa Bay Rowdies and Birmingham Legion FC have historical roots in the game and bring a unique character to the league.

USL1

Building off a historic inaugural season in 2019, the 2020 season will see all 12 clubs play six teams three times and a home-and-away series with the remaining five. The 2020 regular season will open on Friday, March 27 and conclude on Saturday, October 3 with four matches on the final day of the season. 

USLLeagueOne.com

Favorite USL1 Teams

  • I’m really curious to watch Forward Madison and Union Omaha this season.
  • While a few of these teams feel, from a brand perspective like a younger sibling to their MLS counterparts, you can assume the academy funnel will bring these teams some quality players and keep the matches interesting.

The #SupporterScarf – US Edition

If you follow soccer on any level, you are probably familiar with the supporter scarf. Teams across the world have a wide range of scarfs that act as the ultimate memorabilia for fans and collectors alike. In my humble opinion, any club that is worth its weight will have at least two types of supporter scarves: a classic bar scarf and a motto scarf. Scarves have a great history of how they’ve become so central to the beautiful game. Beyond functionality, supporter scarves can quickly create a sea of team colors in a fan section or display fight mottos.

So, let’s take a look at some examples of scarves done right.

MLS Scarves

Atlanta United
Austin FC
Minnesota United FC
Orlando City SC
Philadelphia Union
Portland Timbers
Sporting KC

What these teams get right is a mix of mottos and bold colors that can light up a supporter section. Each of these scarves are found for less than ~$30 and are a perfect accessory for any fan, alongside the pitch or on the street. Austin FC’s colorways are classic in the bar scarf look, with bold colors that really add focus to its shield. Minnesota United FC and Portland Timbers feature large-scale mottos.

USL Scarves

Birmingham Legion FC
Las Vegas Lights FC
Memphis 901 FC
Saint Louis FC
Tampa Bay Rowdies

The USL keeps the excitement going with several teams stepping up to the plate to deliver quality supporter scarves. To some extent, USL teams get a little more flexibility to be bold, or to connect with their historical pasts.

Honorable Mention

Forward Madison FC

Honorable mention goes to Forward Madison FC, who delivers some of the best supporter gear in the category, brings forward several killer supporter scarves. These were finalists for the 2019 competition to select which scarf would become the official club scarf. It was the one on top, but both were stellar.