The 2017 National Premier Soccer League season is in the books, with New Haven, Connecticut’s Elm City Express being crowned National Champions in the club’s inaugural campaign.
This week, NPSL Chairman Joe Barone sat down for a lengthy phone conversation with yours truly.
In the second installment of a two-part interview, the Chairman and I discuss the ongoing efforts of Kingston Stockade FC Owner Dennis Crowley and his ambitions to take the fight for the implementation of promotion and relegation in the United States all the way to the FIFA hierarchy. But first, we talk Detroit City FC, and what their story means to the NPSL. We come back to California, and look to the future of the league. We also learn a little bit more about Joe Barone the person and his hopes for a meaningful legacy in American Soccer.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Mr. Chairman, the well-documented rise of Detroit City FC has been a marvel to behold in American Soccer over the last few years. What does it mean to have Detroit City as part of the NPSL?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): To have that incredible story as part of this league, it’s just brilliant. The credit goes to their fantastic and motivated ownership group, the people behind the growth of DCFC. The credit goes to their raw and authentic fan-base. Without the fan-base, there’s no story. That fan-base is an example of what all our clubs are capable of achieving on a cultural level.
It’s great that they represent our league, but an important part for me within this Detroit City story is that everywhere else around the world, with the commitment and investment the club has shown, there would be full continuity and a complete understanding from everybody around that if they were to win a championship, their story would continue at a higher level.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): The closed system in American Soccer definitely hinders Detroit City a bit in terms of what you’re talking about. The heads of the club have had no qualms in discussing just that. As NPSL Chairman, what have you made of the clear anti-MLS stance of Detroit City, and the vociferous cries from supporters to always stay true to the ideals on which the club was built?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): Nate, you know I’m a proponent of promotion and relegation. I think your readers are also pretty clear on that. I’m also confident in saying that without Major League Soccer, this whole growth of fandom, on-field talent, and the cultivation of true soccer markets wouldn’t be where it’s at today. Now with the league’s growth, the culture has totally changed. The infrastructure of the game of soccer in this country has changed dramatically. The story of Detroit City FC is known by people thousands of miles from Michigan because it’s an amazing story and people want to know more. Therefore, organizations like Detroit City need to be respected.
It’s easy for millionaires and billionaires to come into a metropolitan area, buy up the market, and basically ignore the people who have already been on the ground doing all the hard work for years. That’s wrong. It’s insulting to the people of Detroit and it’s insulting to the people truly working toward the growth of the game in this country.
Those fans in Detroit, the flags they wave and the colors they wear, those belong to Detroit City FC. Right now, there’s no realistic opportunity for them to move up further in the ranks of American Soccer. Within sporting merit, if we had a system in place where teams could move up based on performance, along with revised rules and regulations, we’d all win. American Soccer would win. For now, as I’ve said before, it’s great to have a club like Detroit City as part of our league.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): How long do you think Detroit City FC will be a part of the NPSL?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): Listen, there are some sharp people on our board. The members (i.e. the clubs) of our league know what they’re capable of. We’ve never held anybody down. We’ve always been supportive of people who need to make their own decisions to go elsewhere. Our rules are pretty simple: Pay the dues, meet the bylaws, and respect and utilize your freedom of choice.
We at the league office are very supportive of the people of Detroit. If they are willing and able to make a move to a fully professional league in the near future, I’d support it. They would need serious capital and some major investment. I want to see great things happen for the city of Detroit, for the culture they’ve created. The same goes for anyone else in the NPSL.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Are there any other NPSL locales that really caught your eye on a cultural level this year?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): Absolutely. What I saw from Elm City Express this season, both on the pitch as a league champion and as an organization, it tells me that New Haven could potentially be another Detroit. Time will tell. Asheville is another story that gives me that same feeling. There are more.
This whole culture of lower division soccer in the U.S. has taken on a massive responsibility in the further development of the game in this country. Look at the young fans we’re helping to create, and even the older fans that we’re getting involved. In order to develop the game, you need to develop fans.
What are these people, whether they’re kids or adults, supposed to do if they don’t have a MLS team nearby? I’m proud to be able to help in giving these people something to call their own. The credit goes to the clubs themselves, and to the people of these communities helping the game grow in the right way.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Coming back out west, Mr. Chairman, how would you sum up the NPSL season for fans and organizations on this side of the country?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): I look at the attendance records in Arizona, the support in San Diego and other parts of California, and the cultivation of a strong division in the Pacific Northwest as major success stories this season. The West Region starts competitive play much earlier. The climate and a few other factors allow for it.
It makes for a bit longer of a season out west, which is something the western owners really like, and a lot of our members around the country want to make the western schedule the norm. From Seattle to Arizona and everywhere in between, the Western U.S. is a hot bed for the game of soccer. The NPSL has great room to grow in the key markets of the west.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Now Joe, I have to ask you about a couple of clubs in the Southwestern Conference. City of Angels FC and Corinthians USA were the bottom two teams in the conference table. City of Angels conceded 88 goals in 16 matches! Corinthians conceded 70 and did not win a single game. Part way through the season, City of Angels chose to play their remaining matches behind closed doors. Is it right to have teams like these in the same competition as teams like FC Arizona, Orange County FC, Albion PROS, and others trying to make serious runs at the playoffs and the NPSL National Championship?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): I think there was definitely some challenges for teams this year, especially a first year team like City of Angels FC. There are always going to be hurdles for new organizations. City of Angels has already made some major adjustments and brought in some very qualified personnel. I am confident that they will be a much stronger organization in 2018. All of our teams push one another to perform. At the end of the day, opposing teams and the people in your conference are the things that will push these teams to perform.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): And what if they don’t perform?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): If a team in our league for some reason doesn’t meet our criteria or goes against our rules and regulations, they will be spoken to. In a worst case scenario, fines can be levied and suspensions can be handed out. But this isn’t one of those scenarios. People are invested and passionate and we support all of our NPSL teams 100% going into the 2018 season.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Where would you like to see the NPSL in five years?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): There’s a few things I’d like to see happen in the near future. We have a group of owners that really want to see an extended season, as well as some secondary regional seasons. But mainly, this group of owners that want to see a much longer NPSL season. There’s also a group that wants to stick with the current situation, a situation that very much caters to the college off-season.
I love our league and what it represents, but I’m also a proponent of college soccer. I played it. My kids played it. But the NCAA needs to do things a little differently. This one is totally out of our hands, but it’s clear to me and so many others that the college soccer season needs to be longer. If the NCAA doesn’t extend the college season in the near future, I think that provides even more motivation for us to make the NPSL season longer.
Another big thing for us is the LIVE streaming of matches. Streaming is a massive part of the growth of the lower divisions. It also gives players ample opportunity to be seen and to move on to a fully professional level of soccer. Streaming games and having match highlights online does a great service to players and to the individual clubs. I think more than anything we have a responsibility to the players in this regard.
We also want to continue to work on supporting our members in endeavors that are much grander than this league. What Dennis Crowley is doing right now, taking the fight for sporting merit and ethical competition in American Soccer all the way to the FIFA Courts, it is heroic. We as a league need to be supporting him, along with the folks alongside him from Miami FC.
We want to change the structure of the game in the U.S., and Canada as well. He is fighting for an open-tier system and the implementation of promotion and relegation, a soccer system based not on hundreds of millions of dollars in buy-in fees but instead based purely on performance. Dennis is a smart and courageous man, and he needs to know that the league is in full support of what he’s doing.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Joe, how do you want to be known in the circles of American Soccer when all is said and done?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): It’s a good question. At the end of the day, I’m a married man and father of four. I’m just a regular guy who loves to be out in the field. You’ll see me at local games in my neighborhood here in Brooklyn, soaking in the vibrant soccer culture that you’ll find at various parks and street corners in this great borough.
You’ll see me at various NPSL matches. Then you might see me at a NASL or MLS game the same weekend or maybe even later that evening. I live with a soccer family, a wife and kids who love the game just as much as I do. We live the game 24 hours a day, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
One thing I’d really like to accomplish in my lifetime, something that I’d really like to be remembered for, is to know that I played a small part in the implementation of a fully open system in American soccer. That’s all I want for a legacy, for people to know that I had even the tiniest little bit to do with the open system. That’s how I want to be known.