When AFC Mobile was founded just under a year ago, we knew that we wanted to build a new team in Mobile. We had no intention on being another failed invention of a team that existed on the outskirts keeping certain parts of our community at bay. Beyond a team, we wanted to build a community of players, coaches, supporters, kids, adults, and more.
Our board spent a large amount of time discussing where Mobile would best fit into the skewed soccer map of the United States. I will not bore you with the insane details of how the soccer system in the US works, but the discussions we had were lengthy. Did we want to be a fully professional team? Did we want to be a fully youth team? What was the primary age of people we wanted to have? All of these things were examined, argued, and considered. When the dust settled it came down to two options: the National Premier Soccer League and the Louisiana Premier League.
The NPSL is the most “prestigious” of these leagues; it is also the most expensive. NPSL travel is, in many cases, prohibitively expensive. While looking at a team like the New Orleans Jesters, who would be our closest competitor and would play in the NPSL conference that we would play in, it became fairly clear that that is a path that would not work for what we wanted. The club would be faced with extreme travel, fatigue, and a quick, short season that would not benefit the players, the coaches, or the supporters who wished to travel. Indeed, as seen in the chart below, the travel would be the ultimate hurdle.
Part of what we are building, or want to build, has to do not only with the play but also the game day experience. Coming down off the back of the first semi-competitive game in Mobile during my time here, I was more than excited about this possibility for AFC Mobile. The social media chattering with the Gulf Coast Armada and players and fans of Biloxi City FC was fun; however, at the game it was even better. Chanting and mildly disorganized chants from the GCA and back and forth with Biloxi City FC was part of the atmosphere. It was never vile, or evil, or hurtful on either half, it was fun. Post game, we even talked with some of the Biloxi players who gave everyone a good ribbing.
If you play in NPSL, you get to do that with New Orleans. However, if you do it in the LPL, you get to do it for nearly every game. Maybe not everyone travels to every game. Maybe you can’t get up to Shreveport and maybe their fans can’t make it back to Mobile, but there will be mutual respect/disdain on the fan’s half. The travel is far less for players and supporters, which makes for more competitive games and better conditioning for players. Additionally, the LPL season is longer. The league already goes to Mississippi and there are plans of further growing that league to reach as far East as Tallahassee, Panama City Beach, Dothan, AL, and Pensacola. This is really kind of perfect.
The Gulf Coast soccer experience is growing. The level of players that competed at Sage in the friendly between a local Mobile team (Legion FC) and the closest LPL team to Mobile (Biloxi City FC) was impressive. The fact that Biloxi was actually missing some of their regular first teamers let’s you know that they are going to be a team to deal with in the upcoming LPL season. This is also true of Mobile. Legion FC represented Mobile well, but there are more players. There are players on other SASA teams. There are players who play in local adult leagues in Daphne, Fairhope, and even Foley.
And sure, the National Premier Soccer League has a level “prestige” to it, but the teams there also fail and fold at an alarming rate due to incredibly high costs of ownership and travel. In regards to the travel, Mobile would be in an awful location (see the aforementioned chart).
But why does the prestige of a league matter anyway? It should be about the prestige of the team. The community inside and surrounding the team is what should matter. And with no option to progress through promotion and relegation, a team should be more concerned with itself than its league.
However, the LPL is following along the path of the Premier League of America, and in just a short time they are pushing themselves into that exceptional, elite category that the NPSL has garnered. The winner of the PLA even earns a berth in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, which is the largest and oldest soccer tournament in the country featuring teams from MLS, the NASL, the USL, the PDL, the NPSL, and more.
The LPL is growing. In fact, they too have a berth in the US Open Cup. Imagine a team from Mobile playing a game with Kaká or Clint Dempsey, or Michael Bradley, or Frank Lampard at Ladd-Peebles. Unlikely? Maybe. Impossible? No.
Additionally, the LPL is a far better fit travel-wise and eventually, maybe even quickly, it will become a prestigious league if enough clubs and communities can prove that they are exceptional
Mobile is. AFC Mobile will be. The LPL will be too.
AFC Mobile is going to be a team that represents the region, and after much thought and consideration of the different variables, we hope to represent it in the LPL.