Staff Nominees for 2018 Protagonist Club of the Year

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There’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in lower league circles, “Club over league.” With the collapse of so many leagues and the lack of stability in the current set up, that phrase applies perfectly. Leagues may come and go, but clubs can last forever. As long as they are supported, appreciated, backed, and run correctly. This year, each of our staff picked the club they felt best embodied the passion and pluck of the lower tier and the picks included clubs from the UPSL, NPSL, and regional leagues (I see you Maryland Majors!). The diversity of the choices only emphasizes the diversity of the lower rungs of the American pyramid - a perfect contrast to the cookie cutter look of the top league. So congratulations to our nominees for 2018 Protagonist Club of the Year! Thank you all for your pursuit of excellence, you are fun to watch and report on! Once you read the nominees, vote for your choice here!

Dan - Inocentes FC

Plenty of great clubs to pick from for this, but without a doubt Inocentes has established itself as the class of Texas. Based in Ft. Worth, a club founded by immigrants 50 years ago, their first season in the UPSL ended in the National playoff in Colorado. Undeterred, Inocentes turned around and played in the Fall season, winning the expanded Central Conference convincingly against some of the best talent in the UPSL. Mario Alcala If you doubt this club, better hope you aren’t playing them, because they ball.

Steven - Fort Worth Vaqueros FC

All year this club has impressed me. Their ideas are always innovative and inspire the way I think about crafting a soccer culture. On top of their unique ideas, like a soccer league, the Vaqueros have also found 30+ sponsors to help grow the game with. I will continue to look at what this club does in the future and will also be following their play on the pitch.

Shawn - America SC

This club was brand new at the start of the 2018 Spring UPSL season but has quickly shown its dominance in the Florida Central Conference.  The Fall season continued to see the Owls of America SC tear through their competition in the US Open Cup and league play. I look forward to seeing them do bigger and better things over the next few years.

Phil - Milwaukee Bavarians SC

I’ve been covering or following Milwaukee Bavarians in some form or fashion for 3 full years now and this club never ceases to amaze or impress. From the facility they play at (with its attached Bierhaus) to the history to the trophy cabinet that demonstrates that history, this is a local club that has engaged its community and stayed successful on the field. And they have been doing all this since 1929. Being from outside of Chicago, I’m always reluctant to acknowledge the achievements of Milwaukee sports teams. Bavarians transcends that petty rivalry however and have become a national club with a sustainable model that I hope remains successful for decades to come.

Dominic - Milwaukee Bavarians SC

I’ve got to agree with Phil here. Bavarians dominated their spheres of influence this year, winning two major trophies and locking in a USOC spot. They destroyed their UPSL conference (though I’d argue they have a problematic level of control in that conference and am glad to see it sounds like they might get moved around a little). The club is one of a few big names out of my home state but they continue to show that Milwaukee is a city eternally connected with the beautiful game.

Josh – Detroit City FC

Detroit City seems to do just about everything right, they have set the bar high for non-MLS clubs and I think they’re somebody a lot of other clubs look to for insight and inspiration. They succeed off the pitch as much as they do on the pitch—from participating in a $800K plus grant to invest in Hamtramck’s Veteran Memorial Park to opening their indoor field house, which provides employment opportunities and a place for fans to party and play; from hosting both Serie A club Frosinone Calcio and the very popular 2. Bundesliga club FC Sankt Pauli to becoming a founding member of the NPSL’s Pro league and the Founder’s Cup. Their aesthetic is inspirational and their all-inclusive supporters’ group, The Northern Guard, gives their all for the club for a full 90, then gives even more to their community. After my first full year following the lower leagues, they stand out as the model and I can’t wait to see which clubs emulate or even surpass DCFC’s example in the near future.

Brian – Christos FC

I am biased here as these are the guys that initiated me into high-level, competitive amateur soccer. They have won numerous national championships, but it was their run to the fourth round in the US Open Cup and a match against DC United in 2017 that gained Christos FC national recognition outside of their peers. To me, they are the face of all those who can still play soccer at a high level, whether you are 22 or 35, and find a way to make it work. No, they don’t practice, because they have full-time jobs all around the region. Again, that makes them just like everyone else we are covering, and that is why these guys are the best. They are so accessible and, unlike Messi or Ronaldo, you can actually picture yourself accomplishing some of what they are doing, which motivates people like me to get back in the gym and on the field. They won the Maryland Major Soccer League Fall 1st Division title for the fourth consecutive year and seventh overall and they narrowly missed out on qualifying for a third straight US Open Cup. Their Over-30 and Over-40 clubs continue to have success at the regional and national level and their work with youth clubs in the Baltimore metro area is growing. Oh, and they are now a part of the NPSL, as FC Baltimore is now FC Baltimore Christos. The improved organization and scouting will surely benefit a club that already qualified for the playoffs in its inaugural season.

You’ve read the nominees, now VOTE!