by Scotty Smith
On April 13, 2018, the USL Memphis group confirmed the long-rumored acquisition of Memphis City FC. We were surprised by the change of color scheme; we thought they would play in maroon and orange for one more year. Other than that, this was the least surprising news in the history of Memphis soccer.
Though we recognize and appreciate the contributions of Doug and Dan, we are excited for the next chapter in the history of spectator soccer in Memphis. Several members of Rogue Squadron met with USL Memphis Sporting Director Andrew Bell on Tuesday night, and he seemed genuinely excited about Memphis City and its role in the overall success of USL Memphis. Memphis City will serve as a developmental squad in the PDL, functioning in a way that Under-23 and reserve squads operate around the world. As such, Memphis City will continue to be an amateur squad in the fourth division.
As a primarily U23 squad, MCFC will continue to be a summer home for college players. The team will house the lads while they are here, and we’ve heard rumors that the accomodations are going to be rather nice. Quality living arrangements have a tendency to attract top-level college talent in the fourth division, so we feel pretty good about that.
In addition, the college players will retain their college eligibility. Student athletes can play PDL without giving up their amateur status. This is key, as some players will certainly want to finish their degrees before pursuing professional opportunities. Bell said he hopes to identify some players who have pro potential, then sign them once their college eligibility is done. Truly special players may even turn pro early, which is common in all sports. USL Memphis would love to have a few guys on the roster who impressed at the PDL level and worked their way up to a pro contract.
Bell said that new head coach Mark “Lefty” Franklin will be making most of the decisions for the PDL team, which is in keeping with what happens around the league. For example, Franklin may decide to bring in some guys who are older than 23 but have still maintained their amateur status. Tryouts do not have an age limit, so far as we can tell. So the 28-year-old who is still living the dream could theoretically play for Memphis City in 2018, provided he is good enough to do so.
(Note: Tryouts are at 8:30 am on Saturday, April 21, at Memphis University School. The cost is $35.)
So what does this mean for the future of Memphis City FC? Well, to be honest, it is the best case scenario. Instead of playing second fiddle in a market that has not yet proven it can support one fiddle, MCFC will become a critical piece of the player development puzzle. Players from local colleges, Memphians who play college elsewhere, and elite local high school players will all have the opportunity to compete for spots on the USL Memphis roster. Young players just want a shot; Memphis City will provide that shot.
So, is this the final season for Memphis City FC? Well, that depends on how you look at it. Is it the last year for the name and the brand? Probably, though Bell did not rule out keeping the name. It stands to reason, however, that the team will rebrand to match USL Memphis, with “II” or “B” or “U23” listed on the PDL schedule. This is in keeping with what most USL teams do when they have more than one squad under the same umbrella. But will Memphis City survive as a concept? Yes. There will be high-level amateur soccer in Memphis from this point forward.
Now, you may wonder why they wouldn’t go ahead and rebrand for 2018. I mean, they already changed the colors, right? The answer is simple: USL Memphis is not yet ready to roll out their brand for 2019 and beyond. That will likely happen this summer, but the season starts May 12. USL Memphis chose to simply keep the established name and go from there. This is greatly beneficial to the Rogue Squadron supporters group, as we can still use the chants we’ve been using for the last two seasons. We may have to paint the drum stands, but that’s no biggie; spray paint is cheap.
Please keep in mind that we are reading tea leaves here. Andrew Bell and Craig Unger are both playing their cards very close to the vest. In fact, Bell actually said “Loose lips sink ships.” They want to do things their own way in their own time, and who can blame them? They are standing at the edge of a launch, and they only get one chance to make a first impression.
It should be noted, however, that we’ve done a decent job of reading tea leaves in the past. The Memphis soccer community is small and relatively well-connected, and, after a while, a general consensus starts to form. As such, we have no problem making the prediction that Memphis City FC will NOT be the name of the USL team, and the PDL team will adopt the new name and colors.
So back to the original question: Is this the last year for Memphis City FC? I am putting all my chips in on YES. I am going to treat this season as the last, but more like a farewell tour than a funeral. I plan to have insane amounts of fun.
We’ll sing the songs we’ve always sung. We’ll chant the chants we’ve always chanted. We’ll pull smoke and bang drums like always. We’ll probably be the only ones making noise. Then, when the game is done, we’ll head over to Celtic Crossing, just like we always do. Gamedays will be par for the course, but it’s a really great course.
After this, our soccer will be comparatively big time. This year, we will raise a glass to small-time soccer. Cheers, boys — it’s going to be fun.