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VOL. 133 | NO. 8 | Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Professional Soccer Returning to Memphis

By Don Wade

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There is still much not known about the United Soccer League (USL) team that will begin play in Memphis in 2019 at AutoZone Park.

USL Memphis soccer fans sing a chant prior to a press conference held late Monday, Jan. 8, at AutoZone Park to announce the team. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

What will the team name be? The team colors and logo? Who will be the first coach? The first player signed to a contract? And when will the home opener be?

Despite all those unknowns, excitement at the Monday press conference at AutoZone Park where USL president Jake Edwards officially welcomed Memphis to the USL, was at – and yes, we’re going to say it – a fever pitch.

So when United States National Team goalkeeper and Memphian Tim Howard stepped to the lectern to start the proceedings, a group of fans who belong to the American Outlaws – dedicated to supporting the U.S. national soccer teams – began chanting: “Timmy Howard, Timmy Howard.”

Those fans had gathered at The Brass Door a couple of blocks away and marched into the stadium carrying Memphis USL banners and wearing USL Memphis scarves. They were the first to put down $50 deposits for season tickets and they pretty much cheered throughout the event formally announcing that professional soccer, at essentially the equivalent of Triple-A baseball, has returned to Memphis.

File this press conference under the heading of Rowdy.

“I have no doubt the city is going to grasp this with two hands,” said Howard, who has been advising the Memphis ownership group of Memphis Redbirds principal owner Peter Freund and team president Craig Unger, but does not presently have an official post or ownership stake with the team. “If today is any indication, I think we’re gonna fill some seats and this will be an exciting place to watch a game.”

A rendering of the layout for soccer at AZP shows that one goal would be along the third base line and the other would be in right field. And although Freund & Co. have not committed to any logo or colors yet, the swag on display – T-shirts and scarves – was blue and gray.

Before last season, the Redbirds gave their baseball logo a complete redesign to emphasize Memphis, including the influence of music on the city, and to create more brand identity apart from the parent St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals also hold an ownership stake in the USL team.

Freund says they expect to have a name and logo by March or April.

“We are going to run these as individual operations,” he said. “We will have a sporting director, coaching staff, separate sales people, but still sister organizations. We’ll try to keep things consistent, but it’ll be its own brand.”

The price of season tickets is also still to be determined and, so too all the logistics of hosting soccer matches in AutoZone Park.

“It’s going to be a little bit of a re-education process, even for us, on how the building works for soccer,” Unger said. “It’s a much different operation.”

In 2018, 34 USL teams will play 34 matches over 31 weeks. When Memphis begins play in 2019, the majority of its home games will be played on weekends. The season extends from late March through mid-October. The league is divided into Eastern and Western conferences and Memphis will start play in 2019 with expansion teams in Austin, Texas, and Birmingham, Alabama.

Whatever the team name in Memphis, which the league must approve, the USL president expects it to be a fit. And for the team that takes the field in 2019 to be an extension of the Bluff City.

“Our experience is the team’s going to reflect the characteristics of the city,” Edwards said. “The ownership will go after a coach that will reflect those qualities and put a team together that will reflect those qualities, and play exciting soccer.

“They’re gonna be a tough, underdog, hard-working team if that’s a reflection of the city.”

Go to www.usl2memphis.com for more information about the Memphis team.

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