"A Bit of German Stubbornness": An Interview with Andreas Davi

WIth so much change going on in the lower leagues, I decided to check in with Andreas Davi, the owner and head coach of the Milwaukee Torrent.

So, Andreas, let’s start from the beginning: you played for Bayer Leverkusen’s youth team, and Milwaukee Torrent obviously have a relationship with Leverkusen because you have their logo on your sleeve, and you give a lot of Leverkusen merch away at games. So what is that relationship like, and how will it develop going forward?

Well, right now we have an agreement with Leverkusen’s youth academy to take some kids over every spring break to practice, and to participate in an Easter tournament in Leverkusen. It’s a tournament that I played in myself as a youth player. It is a relationship, and a strategic partnership we are looking to build with the whole club. I can’t give away too much right now because it’s not ready to publish, but this is big, really big. It’s really important for our future.

OK, we will be looking for a big announcement! So what is the story of the Torrent? What gave you the idea to start a football team in Milwaukee?

I came to the U.S. about ten years ago and right away got involved in running the youth team for Bavarians SC. Their senior team left the NPSL, so there was a gap in the Milwaukee market for a team. It was always in my head that it would be great to start a team, but I was never somewhere that I could do it, because in Germany you cannot just start a team. It’s completely different to the way it is here. I made some phone calls in January 2015, two days later I had raised the first $20,000 to start the team. And from there to here, we’ve made unbelievable progress. In 2018 we started the women’s team, and in 2019 we joined the Members’ Cup. We market ourselves as a professional club because we invest in our players and because it makes no sense to have another amateur team when Bavarians SC and Croatian Eagles are here in Wisconsin.

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Speaking of the Members’ Cup, what are the Torrent planning to do next year? There haven’t been any announcements on that front.

Obviously, there are rumors out there. A lot of people don’t know what they are talking about. As I said, we are developing our relationship with Bayer Leverkusen to push the club forward. I can also tell you that the club has the resources now to qualify for Division III status. And it’s not from an investor, we don’t have to give up any of the Torrent. They are not buying an ownership stake.

The Torrent is like many of the people in the Milwaukee area, we work hard for every dollar we raise, and we think a lot of people will identify with this. The people here have a work ethic, and we have a work ethic, and that’s gotten us to this point. You know, when I was with the Bavarians eight or nine years ago, I said ‘let’s move to the PDL [the Premier Development League].’ It would have been much cheaper to do back then. Now the PDL is USL League Two. Just look at [AFC] Ann Arbor [who recently announced a move to USL2]. There are other clubs out there that are overconfident, maybe too cocky even, because they underestimate everyone else around them. Look, here in Milwaukee too, when I started the Torrent, people were laughing. Some people did all they could to stop people coming to the games. I have stories that would turn your hair white. We needed the first few years to get the club off the ground, a bit of German stubbornness to ignore the critics and the people trying to keep us down. Just yesterday we hired a graphic designer, we have someone in charge of bringing in sponsorship deals, and we are bringing in people for other positions that we haven’t announced yet.

So you are laying the foundation for your push to Division III?

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It’s not so much that we are building the infrastructure for Div III because we think we already had it. We have an existing board for the Torrent nonprofit, and we have an existing board for the LLC [Limited Liability Company]. That means a lot of front office work can be done by the volunteers of our foundation, which is huge for our bottom line. A lot of teams don’t have that, they have to put $250,000 or more into their front office. I myself don’t get paid as the owner of the nonprofit, and I do the most work. People ask, ‘how is he doing this?’ I had a great living in Germany. I am smart with money. People talk and think too much about stuff they shouldn’t worry about.

One of the problems with planning for future seasons is that deadlines pass. But we are planning to be a Div III team by 2021. I don’t want to play Friday/Sunday games anymore. The quality suffers. We are forced in NPSL to play two-month seasons, because we have regionals, and then players are off to college. It’s not long enough. I don’t know if we’ll be back in the WPSL next season, because they are expanding a lot without requiring that teams have the facilities in place. One time we got stuck in Indiana with the lights out and no food for the women to eat. We didn’t even know where to get a pizza at that hour. It’s ridiculous, some of these things that happen. I’d longer have a longer preseason than pay the fees for more of that. Right now the NPSL fees are due, but I don’t want to be trapped in a commitment that I don’t agree with, same with the WPSL. Why should I commit if I don’t even know if the other teams will have a locker room for us? But we will take it step by step. We also would like a stadium in downtown Milwaukee [the Torrent currently play in Hart Park in Wauwatosa, WI] but the city will not help with any development until we are in a higher league. Sooner or later, we’ll need to be in downtown Milwaukee.

Your close ties with youth groups must be a big plus for the Torrent. Probably this ties into your own experiences again as a youth player at Leverkusen, and as a youth coach in the U.S.?

When I started the Torrent, I also at the same time started the Foundation. This was always part of how we wanted to run and expand the club. We work with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee; the Torrent are responsible for the soccer coaching program for several schools. The contract has been extended and expanded, so we now have schools from the south side, the north side. That means that players that are here, we can bring them to Milwaukee and tell them that they can get involved in coaching in schools, you can get involved with our nonprofit, you can make money in the city. Other teams cannot say this, and we are proud of that. Maybe we cannot play higher salaries like other clubs, but we try to compensate in other ways. We currently have seven of our players involved in coaching other youth teams. We don’t have our own youth academy, so this is a good way to get involved and get our players involved. Players know that they can come here, make some money, get involved in coaching, and it can help them prepare for when they aren’t playing anymore. That’s big for the players because it’s their futures too. That’s one of the things that I’m proud that we can do, and it allows us to save on a lot of costs. It’s not the typical U.S. model, and when I talk about this with Div III leagues, they always say they’ve never heard of this before, because that’s not the typical U.S. model. This always amazes me, because soccer in the U.S. just follows the other models for U.S. sports. But it doesn’t work that way in the rest of the world, and guess what, the rest of the world is catching up even in sports that the U.S. dominates in. I don’t know why nobody is saying, ‘let’s wake up!’

There are three big things that we miss in the U.S.: 1) Tactical education, because we only play a few months outside when the weather is good in the Midwest, when we should be playing through the summer months when the weather is best; 2) Physical education, because our kids struggle tremendously when they go to Europe and think that if they fall over they are going to get the foul; and 3) The high speed of the game. If we don’t change high school sport, we will not improve. We cannot just relax and say it’s OK, we can send our best players to Europe to develop. Maybe for [Christian] Pulisic this will work, but we will need thirty Pulisics! We will not get a quality national team that way. It’s a grassroots problem: in high school the referees are bad, the coaches shouldn’t be on the field, and they are all just doing it for money. In Germany, youth coaches up to maybe U15 are working just for gas money. I brought this knowledge of the [highly successful] German youth system when I started the Torrent. I had interviews for a GK coach, and one guy asked for “at least $1,200.” All he did was work in high school and for a club, and he had the guts to ask for that much money? I asked him, what is on your resumé that justifies that money? And he had no answer. This is the perfect example of why we need to do things differently with the Torrent. If you look at the qualifications of our head coach, Carlos Córdoba—you know, he played for [and captained one of South America’s most storied clubs] Boca Juniors, he’s coached in the U.S.—he’s not here for the money. He’s doing it because of what we’re trying to do here in Milwaukee. Many clubs fold because they pay an unbelievable amount of money for everything, and after one or two years, it doesn’t work anymore. We put a lot of money into the Torrent, we give them free board, they left their countries to come here. They left their homes. This is how it is different here than at other clubs in the U.S. And yet there are still people asking, ‘how does this all work?’

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It does seem like the Torrent have raised their game by bringing in Carlos as the coach and bringing in a lot of new players, but the Members’ Cup has still been a hard nut to crack. It is the case that the other teams in the Members Cup have also improved? It seems like a moving target.

We cannot bring in players like Chattanooga or Detroit can because of our more limited financial resources, but as you have seen from coming to our games in the past, we have had a continual improvement in our players. They are getting better and better. Of course, we have players from Argentina because of the connections we have, but we also have hundreds of players contacting us, hundreds of videos being sent to us. I’ve lost track of how many agents have tried to bring players here. Obviously, we try to bring in better and better quality players, but you have to be careful you don’t sacrifice what you stand for. You always have to stand by your budget. That’s always what gives teams problems, when they think let’s just do it. But we are holding our own in the Members Cup. Nobody has crushed us. We’ve lost our games by one goal. There was no game we really deserved to lose. Against Detroit, it was an own goal. For New York, New York were better, but we conceded against two crosses. I think many people have been surprised by what we are putting on the field. They think they will come here and get three points, but we are surprising them.

- Stephen Packer