by Scotty Smith
This much is certain: the Memphis City FC crest no longer appears on the NPSL website. Now, there could be any number of reasons WHY this is the case. Perhaps the webmaster simply overlooked Memphis, like so many in the sports world have done before (ask UCLA football). Perhaps Memphis City is updating its crest (hey, Knoxville did it), and simply asked permission to wait a bit before releasing the new one. But there is a third possibility, and one that seems like the most plausible scenario: perhaps Memphis City is done with the NPSL altogether.
According to supporters from other clubs in the conference, NPSL Southeast front offices are not expecting Memphis City to be in the league in 2018. Owners talk to each other throughout the offseason, and smoke typically accompanies fire. However, there is no indication locally that the club is folding, and we have even been given positive hints and signs that the club will be back for a third season. That begs the question, “Where?”
There are a few possibilities, but, given the current landscape of the Memphis soccer scene, there is only one that ultimately makes sense for the good of all involved. As we thoroughly discussed on the last podcast, USL is coming to town in 2019. It makes total sense, for the sake of unity, for Memphis City to join forces with USL Memphis.
Everybody knows I am a big fan of unity. I’m the dude who wants to sit around the campfire and sing kumbaya. I’m partly that way due to my upbringing, but I’m partly that way because I feel it is the only way to maximize potential within a geographic area. (Note: The exception here is Detroit City FC. It would be pointless for those guys to unite with an MLS effort. It is fundamentally contrary to who they are.)
As we have already seen with Nashville SC, an expansion team in the USL has the option of creating (or enveloping) a team in the USL’s Premier Development League, a fourth division league with the motto, “Path To Pro.” The team that we formerly played in NPSL, Nashville FC, was basically swallowed up by the USL team and rebranded with the sexy moniker “Nashville SC U23.”
They beat our socks off that night, but they weren’t just impressive on the field. These jokers got off a fancy charter bus in matching Nashville SC polo shirts and bags. They had a coaching staff, a training staff, and a sports information director. It was a totally different operation than the team that had shown up one year earlier as Nashville FC. They looked like a professional team.
On the field, they were about a thousand times better than they had been one year earlier (before they got John Ingram’s money). They had obviously recruited higher quality players, which is easier to do when the players think they have a legit shot of making a pro team if they impress in PDL. They thoroughly dismantled us, and we were competitive in the NPSL (hey, we beat Chattanooga).
Birmingham could follow suit. Like Memphis City, their crest has been removed from the NPSL website. I would be shocked if there was no soccer in Birmingham in 2018. It seems a near certainty that there will be a Birmingham team in PDL, be it the Hammers or a team with the new USL name and colors.
Could soccer in the Mid-South benefit from an alliance between Memphis City and USL Memphis? In a word, yes. The owners and coaches of Memphis City FC have made it clear in the past that their focus is on the development of the Under-23 player (they even started Memphis City B to further this cause). By contrast, USL Memphis will be focused on getting the players necessary for a run at USL Cup. If that player is a 35-year-old former Peruvian National Team player, so be it.
These two teams will be completely different models, and they will not be in competition with each other. If we look at the situation from Memphis City’s point-of-view, there are plenty of positives. For one, there would be the financial stability that comes with being a part of the Redbirds organization (if, as SocTakes reported, Peter B. Freund is involved). This would take some of the stress away, such as the stress that comes from having to line up corporate sponsors every year. At last count, the Redbirds had around 80 corporate sponsors. I’m not saying all of them would sponsor Memphis City, but it is rather easy to imagine an umbrella sponsorship package wherein a company could sponsor the Redbirds and get soccer as a bonus. Other companies, particularly those with international CEOs, might rather skip the baseball and go straight for the soccer. Either way, linking to a team with a history of pulling in a multitude of sponsors is a huge plus for Memphis City.
From the USL Memphis standpoint, it would make sense to add a team with a small yet passionate fan base. That way, they would instantly become “the pro team that ENHANCED Memphis City” instead of “the pro team that KILLED Memphis City.” The front office could focus on building a pro team for 2019, and Memphis City could continue focusing on the development of the Under-23 player. It’s a win-win.
The only possible detriment to this situation is idealistic. Memphis City FC will have to give up its place in the “independent” club landscape. The word independent, in soccer terms, is supposed to mean “stick it to the man.” But many independent clubs suffer (and even fold) because independent can also mean “bleeding money.” Thus, when an opportunity comes along to join forces with a stable professional team (such as the Redbirds), the independent club could easily be swayed to choose stability over uncertainty.
As it stands, Memphis City appears to be done with NPSL. We reached out to the Memphis City front office, and they cordially declined to comment — “for now.” That little prepositional phrase at the end is interesting. I expect that we will hear more soon…early January perhaps? That is when the official USL announcement press conference is expected to take place. If the USL team also announces a partnership with their new best friends Memphis City FC, it would not be a gigantic surprise. It makes too much sense. Plus, we DO know that the two sides have met, and that the lines of communication are open. At the very least, Memphis City FC does not appear to have any animosity towards the group that is bringing USL to Memphis.
Unity is pretty rare in Memphis soccer. For that matter, unity is rare in AMERICAN soccer. I know that in the minds of some Americans, every major city should have three major clubs and their fans would all fight in the streets and the inner-city Twitter wars would be epic and we would all be just as European as possible. I prefer a different model.
I’ll go on record and predict that Memphis City FC will join Mississippi Brilla, Birmingham, and Nashville in the PDL next season. They will do so as the Under-23 affiliate team of the USL Memphis team. They will continue to focus on the development of the Under-23 player, and bridge the gap between our youth system and the professional team. Fans will unite for one cause — a cause we know quite well. It always has been, and always will be, MEMPHIS VS. ERRBODY.