South Bend has its newest sports team and it’s one that we should get excited about.
South Bend has quite the history with soccer and South Bend FC represents the newest page in that book. Jim Tallman is considered to be pioneer of the Beautiful Game in the area and South Bend’s public and private high schools are still continuing his legacy. Notre Dame’s Women’s Soccer team has won three National Championships (though many of us still insist their tally should be at four) and Bobby Clark has led the Men’s team to one.
Of course, South Bend’s soccer history is not confined to the academic institutions in the area. Presently, South Bend is home to three youth travel clubs: Indiana Invaders FC, Michiana Echo, and Jr. Irish SC. Over the years, these clubs have trained and prepared soccer players to reach high into the American Soccer Pyramid.
Indiana Invaders FC used to have an in-house professional team which competed in the fourth tier of American Soccer called the Premier Development League (PDL). Small crowds and operating costs caused the Invaders to fold the PDL side in 2011; they still maintain their youth teams, though.
Most would have given up on South Bend as a viable location for a an independent club to participate in the American Soccer Pyramid, but the end of the Invaders PDL is just the beginning of our story.
Champions Soccer League USA
Champions Soccer League USA (which I’ll refer to as “CSL”) was founded in 2014 in Florida. Three short years later, US Soccer granted CSL the status of a national league. Affiliated clubs are mostly found in small to middle-sized urban areas like Ashland, Oregon; Redding, California; Winter Haven, Florida; Yuba City, California; and South Bend, Indiana. But CSL also has a presence in Boston, Orlando, Tampa, Manhattan, and Long Island (thanks Wikipedia).
And did I mention this is an amateur league?
Yes, CSL is an amateur league–the first one to receive national sanctioning from US Soccer. CSL also addresses a very divisive issue in American soccer in that they are one of two leagues in the American pyramid with solid plans to implement promotion and relegation (the other one being United Premier Soccer League who have implemented pro/rel in their Western conference, which is primarily California). While CSL’s plans for pro/rel haven’t come to fruition yet, it is a league which is expanding at a safe rate and I would imagine it will be implemented soon.
South Bend FC: Who are they playing?
As an amateur league, CSL teams don’t have the finances to travel across the country just to play one game. Thankfully, there is a system that US Soccer, the CSL, and other leagues like the PDL and the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) use to divide up the country to make competition more reasonable: I refer to it as the region system. The country is split up into four regions: Region 1 is the northeast, spanning from Pennsylvania and West Virginia in the west to Maine in the north and Virginia in the south; Region 2 is the Midwest from Ohio to the Great Planes States; Region 3 is the southeast, from Texas to Florida, to North Carolina; and Region 4 is the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. I explained that the best way I could with words, but for you visual people out there (like me), here’s a picture:
Naturally, the area in focus for this piece is Region 2. Clubs only compete against other teams in their region until the postseason comes around when the competition becomes more national to decide the league’s champion. In Region 2, there will be six CSL teams competing in 2017 and there are two more set to begin play in 2018. The existing teams are South Bend FC, Danes FC, Lincoln United, Indy Saints FC, Huskers Soccer Club (Lincoln, NE), and Racine Force (Racine, WI). Gary, IN and Kenosha, WI are the planned expansion locations. Here is the Region 2 geography for CSL in 2017:
Meet Steve Smith: Head Coach of South Bend FC
After a series of emails and a game of phone-tag, I was able to have an interview with Steve Smith: head coach of SBFC. Coach Smith is from Long Island; he grew up playing baseball and football. In the summer of 1986, the World Cup was hosted in Mexico and one of Coach Smith’s friends was supporting Northern Ireland. Seeing the passion for the game, Coach Smith fell in love with it. This was during his time at the US Merchant Marine Academy, and in his senior year, Coach Smith played on the soccer team. He says he got his coaching license so he could teach his two boys how to play soccer, but after moving to the South Bend area to teach math, he found himself coaching at the collegiate and club levels. Presently, in addition to SBFC, Smith is also the head coach for the boys’ program at Clay High School (where he teaches geometry and algebra) and the goalkeeping coach at Holy Cross College.
Coach Smith told me that player interest has been remarkable: “the goal was 15 college-level players… we have 24 in the squad with more to come… Some play for a college, some do not. Some are from the area, some are not: we even had one come in from Boston to play for us.”
Coach Smith and I agree that knowing the players and that most of them are from the local area is very important for the younger fans. Coach Smith likened the atmosphere to a professional environment even though his team is made up of amateurs. In many ways, players represent role models for those fans, so the players have a responsibility both on and off the pitch to continue to be someone the fans can admire.
American soccer clubs are notoriously vulnerable, especially when they are first founded. Even clubs as high as the North American Soccer League (NASL–which currently shares Division 2 sanctioning with United Soccer League–USL) have trouble surviving. In NASL’s case, after the conclusion of the 2016 season, an Oklahoma City club dissolved after one year, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers dissolved after a long stay, and the most recognizable brand in US Soccer’s history, the New York Cosmos, nearly dissolved. Some NASL clubs don’t even survive to see the first season as was the case for the Virginia Cavalry FC. The situation can be dire for lower-league clubs in America, so early and continuing support for those clubs can and will be vital their survival.
For their first season, South Bend FC is owned by CSL and the plan is to be owned privately in time for the 2018 season to begin. There’s no one on the business side of things for SBFC, so they, as the club and the league, are working on getting plans on paper.
Coach Smith told me “The most important thing for fans to do is to come support us… We want rowdy teenage fans and a fun, family environment.”
Of course, the reason for this is two-fold. The first reason is to create a great atmosphere for the fans and the players to enjoy. The second reason, though I don’t think he would admit it, is to attract an owner or an ownership group.
I must say, though, that fans are the lifeblood of soccer. Without passion, what’s the point? Soccer, football, whatever you call it, unifies people in incredible ways and I hope SBFC is able to do that in South Bend. But in order for that to happen, us, the fans and the people of the greater South Bend area need to come out and support this new club.
Home games will be played at Clay Field in South Bend which is at Clay Middle School: 52900 Lily Rd, South Bend, IN 46637
The first home game will be on June 9th at 6:30 against Racine Force. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for students five to eighteen and for seniors fifty-five and older, and free for fans younger than five.
Put on your black and your dark green and warm up those vocal cords because we want to hear you, South Bend!
Two of the great footballing (soccer-playing) cities in England used to be manufacturing towns–Manchester made textiles and Liverpool made ships–now they are footballing towns.
That same phenomena has happened in Germany where Gelsenkirchen (home of Shalke 04) went from a mining town to a football town. Dortmund was a steel town; now it’s a football town.
South Bend was also a manufacturing town, perhaps the pattern will continue here.