Photo by Flickr user Peter Dutton
On February 19th and 20th, several dozen athletic hopefuls will make their final case for becoming professional athletes. If all goes well, they will have a chance to be part of Memphis’ new professional soccer team. Memphis City FC (MCFC) will debut over the summer in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), the fourth tier of American professional soccer. The new organization will give soccer fans in the city a live team to watch, and they should be well-supported. A network of avid soccer fans already exists in town, many of whom frequent pubs early on Saturday and Sunday mornings to catch their favorite professional teams play. It should give MCFC at least a foothold in a city that has historically been a basketball town.
Memphis City FC will not be the first professional soccer team to grace Memphis. The ill-fated Rogues took up residence in 1978, and a series of errors set the stage for a turbulent three-year tenure. The team hired coach Malcolm Allison, who failed to sign enough players to field an eligible team and found himself out of a job before the season even started. The upheaval led to a third-place finish in their division and a failure to qualify for the playoffs. The following season, amid a players strike, the Rogues finished last in their division, with attendance predictably dropping. A pitiful third season in 1980 prompted the owner to sell the club. New ownership moved the team to Alberta, Canada, where it closed in obscurity just a year later.
Memphis City FC’s owners are keen to ensure that there are no hiccups with the new team, and have planned accordingly. Co-founders Doug Kranz and Dan Collins both have experience in the grassroots levels of the game, and their efforts to start a club were strengthened by love of the game. “Dan and I both have kids that were playing local club ball at the time, and we met to discuss how we wish there was more for the fans in the area,” says Kranz, who is also president of MCFC. “Memphis has an amazing soccer history, but it had been some time since the city had a professional team. We decided that we wanted to do something about it and began to generate some ideas on how to accomplish this. We found the NPSL is a perfect match because it’s a US Soccer Federation-recognized league that really affords business owners freedom to operate.”
That freedom has allowed Kranz and Collins to put a unique stamp on the Memphis organization. Their desire to create a culture encompassing both local and international traits of the game is reflected in the board members and coaching hires. Recently appointed head coach Matt Williams held the position of assistant coach at the University of Memphis last year and knows the Memphis playing landscape well. Board Members Tom Byer and Mads Davidsen have extensive international soccer experience with some of the top coaches and professionals in the game.
The coaching and backroom staff appointments were all made with one specific goal in mind. “The playing philosophy took top priority, as it determines what kind of coaches we want, what kind of players we’re looking for, and the game-strategy we can produce on the pitch. On the offensive side, we’re both big fans of ball possession. We want players that can bring very strong foot skills and understand how to play a patient yet penetrating style,” says Kranz.
The commitment to possession-based soccer points to the ambitions of the club. It is a style used by some of the world’s top clubs, most notably FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and has brought them incredible success and numerous accolades. The style presents a pleasing aesthetic for fans and gives them good value for money. It would be tempting to simply put the pieces together for the first season, but the organization is serious about making its mark in Memphis.
In addition to an attacking philosophy for the fans, Memphis City hopes to connect with the greater Memphis community. Its three core tenets are: “Heroes, Civic Duty, and Football Platform.” The club will ideally provide local soccer heroes for aspiring players to look up to, as well as use the MCFC brand to aid various charitable groups around town. Finally, the team will look to provide a stable platform from which their players can spring to the top level of the game.
Together, all of MCFC’s ideas create a compelling sports package, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed in the larger soccer world. Sevilla FC, one of Spain’s top clubs, has associated itself with Memphis City, allowing for shared resources, coaching ideas, and general soccer education. In addition, the Spanish side will help with training camps and talent identification. The association really is a way to put Memphis City FC on the global map.
Despite only getting the green light for participation in late 2015, Kranz and Collins have managed to get everything prepared for the upcoming season, and people are already interested. A fan group, the aptly named Rogue Squadron, has already formed and has created songs and chants to support the team during games at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex. They will be attending the tryouts on Friday, February 19th, (at JD Sportsplex) and Saturday, February 20th, (at Christian Brothers University) to support potential players.
It wasn’t easy to get a team established, but Kranz and Collins worked hard to make it happen. “There was an extensive application process we went through with the league, and it really helped us get our ducks in a row in solidifying what and how we were going to accomplish our goals,” Kranz says. “Many people think we were approved in the early or middle part of 2015. This is actually not the case – we were given the green light later in the year and we had to go to market very quickly, as we wanted to announce and have a Fan Rally before the holidays. Fortunately we were able to get things rolling, and it’s been a whirlwind since.”
“Memphis Rising” is the organization’s motto, and with stability and a clear plan, the team should be prepared to do so as well.