Drafting a Winning Club

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Fantasy sports have been growing in popularity every year. From football to baseball and, most importantly, soccer. Fantasy sports mix together passion and knowledge in a strange cocktail suited for the hardcore fan.

I've always been in love with the concept of a fantasy draft. When we were young, my brother and I would sit down with a sheet of paper and draw out our teams, where we would play each player, what stadium, and we even created unique branding for each team. I was always the Riverside Sharks. Riverside is my hometown and the shark was my badass mascot that would help strike fear in my opponents.

Then the internet came. I would cut off our phone line, dial-up AOL, and do all my studying to partake in Yahoo Fantasy Football. And I was good! At 13 years old I was winning open leagues and beating my family in our private leagues. This interest stuck as my fandom for American football and baseball grew, but once I fell out of those sports I lost interest in all things fantasy (except for Dungeons & Dragons).

Fast forward to now. As a supporter of lower league soccer, I see clubs pop up daily and every time I see a new club, the thoughts of creating my own club creep up on me. How would I do it, when would I do it and what would my club stand for? So like the good ol' days I took out my paper, my multicolor pen and got cracking on the elements I find important to creating a soccer culture.

SoCal Sharks SC

First Pick: Asheville City SC- A Men's And Women's Team.

Of course there are many teams that host a men's and women's side, but it was Asheville that first caught my eye. The beauty of soccer is that it is for everyone who wants to participate and Asheville has taken steps to ensure the success of both teams. In the last season, its women's team finished in second place in the WPSL Carolina Conference. Its men's team advanced into the NPSL playoffs, losing in the semifinals to regional foe, Atlanta Silverbacks FC.

As my first pick I feel it is important to involve the whole community. I want all sons and daughters to have a pathway to play professional soccer in the community they grew up in. For the fans, game days can turn into a double header: a four hour party with singing, chanting, good food, and family. We would preach equality, helping our culture grow one match at a time.

Second Pick: Providence City FC- Unique Branding.

How many lower league clubs can say their kits were on national television? PCFC can, and it continues to produce slick kits that make a fashion statement. Along with its skull and crossbones crest, PCFC's branding has helped make it an iconic brand within American soccer culture.

At some point the SoCal Sharks will need to become more than just a local club. Unique branding will help generate additional revenue from global fans, putting more eyes and ears on our product on and off the field.

Third Pick: Fort Worth Vaqueros FC- A Free-To-Play Youth System.

Pay-to-play youth systems have been a constant source of criticism from soccer fans throughout our nation. Other than the investment of time, a parent of a Fort Worth youth player only needs to invest in their child's equipment: jersey, cleats, shin guards, and a ball. The Vaqueros manage the cost of this service through sponsorship ( 37 current sponsors), a 7v7 adult league, and they even host pickup games that cost $5. Each of these services help generate revenue and build a loyal soccer culture.

The SoCal Sharks Soccer Club wants to create generational fans. Kids would partake in our free-to-play system, compete through the youth ranks, root for their hometown club and one day step on the field for the first team. This is the dream for young soccer players throughout the world, and with a little innovation within our community we can make this dream a reality for our young fans.

Fourth Pick: Chattanooga FC- A Supporters Group

The Chattahooligans have become iconic within lower league soccer culture. When their team is on the field they sing songs, chant, wave flags, and create a true soccer atmosphere. Off the field, they host charity events and look for ways to give back to the community that has given them so much. They have even become defenders of their community, fighting against the USL's attempt to steal their market. They are inspirational.

As an organization, the Sharks would always be focused on putting the community first. This ethos would transfer to our fans who would also want to give back to their community. Game days would be like a family holiday equipped with great music and even better food. After 90 minutes, the Sharks and our supporters would continue to find ways to involve the community and make our home a better place for all citizens.

Fifth Pick: Orange County FC- Live Match Streaming

Whether in its spring NPSL season or fall UPSL season, OCFC has produced great quality streams of its matches. Other than just the video quality, these streams are partnered with play-by-play from Art Eftekhari (@OCFCfooty on Twitter). Its streams have helped it reach thousands of extra fans throughout the country. If a fan can't travel to an away match, they can just go on YouTube or Mycujoo and find their favorite soccer club.

It is important for the Sharks to offer a way to always watch our club. While we want butts in the seats, we understand the importance of being able to watch a match on TV. Fans would be able to go back and watch their favorite matches over again. The play-by-play would help educate everyone on tactics and the players that play for our club. Scouts could watch and analyze our matches and find players that may have an opportunity to play at a higher level. We want our fans to be knowledgeable and we want our players to play at the highest level in our sport.

The most important factor for any club is representing your community and trying to find ways to improve the lives of your fans. Soccer is about giving equal opportunity to all members of the community and supporting the people that choose to support you. I love a club that gives back to its fans, a club that shows appreciation to the volunteers who spend thousands of hours contributing to create something beautiful for their culture, and a club that is willing to reach outside of its community to create a platform for change. I hope more soccer clubs show up and create more than just a team on the field, because soccer isn't just the product on the pitch; it's the development of community, culture and a team every fan wants to be a part of.

- Steven Ramirez

Lola Vaughn