An Introduction and A Thank You

I can’t believe it’s been a year.

Seriously, it’s shocking to me as I look back. When we began this thing it was just an idea that was being tossed around in a group chat. Ryan Stallings, who many know as one of the leaders of the Red Watch, and Spencer Baugh, a friend who sort of dropped of the map, and I were complaining about the lack of coverage of lower league soccer. To be honest, we're notorious about coming up with ideas and not following through with them, so much so that the name of our group chat is “We’re better at ideas than getting them done.” So maybe Protagonist would have ended up in the pile along with our plan to build a museum for Fall River Marksmen and so many others (someone should build that museum, by the way). Instead, it turned into this.

Ryan and Spencer both exited in the first month we went live, a year ago this week. Ryan decided that other priorities in his life needed his attention and so he exited, though he and I text and DM multiple times a week - he’s a good man with a lot of great ideas about soccer. Spencer ghosted me and has yet to respond to any messages, but his social media is active and I wish him well. He’s a great guy with a beautiful family and a ton of talent. If he ever hit me up and wanted to saddle back up, he’d have a place at the table. And so that left me as the only founder.

And now a year later, I look back at all this and shake my head. Insane. It’s been wild.

So before I get into this week, I’d like to thank so many of you that have made this site what it is.

The Writers

Dominic Bisogno was one of the first writers we brought in, though we were cautioned by a club that he was biased towards his home club. He turned out to be one best writers we had join us - an absolute gem. He generated work on a weekly basis that surpassed all of our expectations. His laser focus on the sport was unmatched on our staff. He’s going places.

Steven Ramirez, who just recently pulled the plug - that one stung. I’ll never forget how much Steven pushed to record a podcast, though he had no experience. He did, The Pitch Perspective, and it was great. So full of content and Steven’s passion. Steven was a grinder, if you needed an article, he was there. He will be dearly missed.

Brian Burden was our most “professional” of the bunch, our only published author, the long-form producer. When we needed an article that required research or a professional approach, Brian was our guy. He’s also the one author who wrote an article so good we handed it off to another publication. His life got too busy and he had to exit. He’s always welcome back.

Jason Weintraub, dude was and is a rock star. He’s a world-travelling DJ, a USL expert, but,most importantly, he’s a fantastic guy. I loved what Jason brought to the team, his approach was so full of fun and passion, he infected everyone around him. He outgrew our site, but the gap he left is still felt.

Andy Rittenhouse never got his legs under him, honestly. He put out several great articles and I was extremely excited to see what he would bring to the table over time. Life got too busy and PS didn’t make the cut. I hope he comes back because the world needs to hear his voice.

Phil Baki was in that first group of writers. I had known him from his online gif-fests and his over-the-top love of Liverpool. When he hopped on the team, it was a running joke about when Protagonist’s twitter account would pass him in followers. We did about 5 months in. Phil has become less involved with the site as he has become a key figure in 8th Notch and the general buzz around El Paso Locomotive. He’s still there and when he has the time to produce work, it is stellar.

Aarik Long was an early one as well, though consumed by his job and studies, he still put out work that shone. I will never forget early on shooting down an article he had worked hours on. I was afraid I had lost him, but he bounced back. Now he’s a solid writer for our team, produced the Destination Soccer: Chattanooga articles, but he is also the driving force behind the Grassroots Soccer Media Union, which I firmly believe is vital to the future of lower league soccer journalism.

Shawn Laird, our fiery writer from Florida, blows up our Slack with hot takes for days. He’s always passionate about Florida soccer but that passion infects everything he says and does. Shawn never holds back, even if the more tender of our group cringe, and we love him for it.

Hector Monterroso first came to us as a club manager with Fortitude. Then his club suffered the same fate that so many lower league clubs meet. Rather than becoming jaded or angry, Hector joined our staff and gives some of the finest coverage Maryland Majors has ever received. He’s a new, but vital part of our coverage of regional soccer.

Dan Creel, our historian. Dan came out of nowhere (as far as I knew), but early on expressed his love of soccer and his desire to contribute, especially in soccer history. His work has driven the Kicking Back series and his focus on the lessons of the past has made our site richer and more interesting.

Stephen Packer, Paul Kowalczyk, and Nichole Singleton are all new members of our staff, finding their feet and generating amazing content when they can find the time. I’m so excited about what they will bring to the table as they grow into their roles.

There are so many other writers who came and went who were so important to us this first year. I apologize if their names don’t come to mind instantly, their work was no less vital to our success. I thank you so much for your volunteerism and desire to make this site a functioning thing. You did it and we couldn’t have done it without you.

Finally, I’d like to thank Joshua Duder. When the site began, he was referred to us by Ryan - “he’s a good guy, we need to get him.” Ryan was right. Duder has become my best friend, though we’ve never met in person. He’s a fantastic writer, a passable graphic artist, a great podcasting sidekick, and he’s my right hand on this site. I can’t tell you how much we text each other, it’s ridiculous. Honestly, I would have given up if it wasn’t for him. Thank you, Josh. I hope you stick around for another year of this roller coaster. But even if you don’t, you’ll always be my friend.

The Advertisers

We aren’t really a money-making entity and most of the expenses fall onto Josh and I. But we’ve been lucky enough to have a couple of sponsors step up because they believed in our site.

I’d be remiss to not mention Away Days who were a sponsor on our site for a month. Sadly it was only a month, but I cannot force people to click a link. I do, however, know multiple people who have ordered from Away Days since we pushed them on the site, so you’re welcome! In all honesty, though, Away Days took a chance on us and it didn’t work out. That’s all we could ask and we thank them and still encourage everyone to order a mystery kit box. It’s $25, people. That’s a ridiculous deal.

Douglas Heizer and Boca Raton FC came on about 6 months ago. When I forgot to bill Doug, he complained because he believed in what we do. That meant the world to me. I really love his vision, his passion, and desire to see the game grow. His commitment to lower league soccer and wanting to help all boats rise inspires me to do the same.

Icarus FC was the first advertiser we had on the site. Robbie hit us up and wanted to be involved early on. Now, a year later, he’s only the biggest name in specialized kits in the lower leagues. He’s a genius in design and works his ass off to keep prices down. He’s been nothing but the absolute best. I often say that the best part of my job is meeting people in the lower league game - Robbie is a real one. I don’t understand why clubs use anyone else for their kits.

The Patreon Crew

First of all, we know we’re behind on the rewards, we’re sorry, but we’ll get it done, PROMISE.

Thank each and every one of you. You give our writers money because you value what they do. It’s not a lot, yet, but it means so much to our staff that there are readers out there who respect our work enough to pay us for it. You don’t have to, but you do. Thank you.

The Readers

Finally, to all of you, I can’t express how blessed I am to do this thing. I’ve been a part of so many sites, blogs, zines, etc. They all died because no one cared. To see what this site has become, thousands of visitors every month, a social media following nearing 3,000, it’s overwhelming. As I type this, there are tears in my eyes because you made this possible. Every one of you clicks our links, visits our sites, shares our posts, this project is user focused because you are the most important part of this.

Fellow Journalists

I would be remiss to not mention the other guys grinding out there, for little or no pay. Some of the names you know, some you don’t, but volunteer work is a thankless job in a sport so full of passion. Fans kill you if they disagree, even if you stayed up late on an article or had to write during a lunch break. That’s ok, it’s part of what we do, but as a peer, let me say thank you.

And a special word to Steve Bailey of Non-League America, the lower league soccer world needs you. You’re an important voice, so speak. So many are listening.

Even as I look over this, I can think of clubs and owners and players and league officials and fans, all of you have been so important to me over the last year. Just because I didn’t mention you doesn’t mean I didn’t think of you. Thanks for everything.

So to that introduction I promised. All this week, we’ll be putting out our favorite articles of the last year, with an intro to freshen the content. Each of us will talk about why we love the piece and what about it stands out. We hope you enjoy this work, this site, our passion. Thank you.

- Dan

Dan VaughnComment