Greener Pastures?

This is a story with little details on the record, so I’m going to do my best and hope that my reputation as someone who is fair carries the day.

What I Know, Kind Of

Earlier today, there was a tweet from an official in the Gulf Coast Premier League stating that “Jesters and Jax Armada are courting 4 clubs from @GCPLsoccer to join @NPSLSoccer on a very cheap buy in to form a gulf division for 2020.” I immediately reached out to the person who tweeted this and asked for confirmation. He would not give me information on the GCPL clubs involved, because the situation was still fluid. Because of all the still moving parts, he also wouldn’t comment on the overall situation at this point, aside from his public tweets (which is the only reason I included it in the story).

With one avenue for information exhausted, I emailed the NPSL media office for information. A response didn’t come quick enough for my curiosity, so I texted the office to ask for information regarding the claim in the previously mentioned tweet. They responded that they “were not aware of the situation” so they couldn’t give a statement. I won’t lie, that felt like a head fake to me, so I asked another question. “Does the league have a policy concerning club recruitment? Do league fees get lowered? And who decides that?” I figured that question was a more fair question for a media office, as they certainly know the policies of their league and should be able to speak to them. They responded that they “are not able to comment. Thanks.”

I did also shoot a text to a league official not in the media office to ask about the claims and have yet to receive an answer.

So if neither league was willing to go on the record, I reached out to an club official in the GCPL and asked if the NPSL had recruited his club and did they offer to lower the expansion fee. “Early this summer. We didn’t really seriously consider the offer. We knew we wouldn’t have it in the budget the first year.” And to the question of lowering expansion fees, he said “Yes, if I remember correctly.” Who is this club official? Fair question, sadly (for the purpose of this story’s credibility) they want to stay anonymous.

To wrap this up, I reached out to another NPSL club official and asked how common it was to waive expansion fees. This official responded “that’s supposed to be taboo. Supposedly, they don’t do it, but I’m not 100% sure.” I asked this question because I hear rumors online all the time about the NPSL using fee waiver as a way to woo new clubs, but the league denies it every time. So at least one anonymous club official says it’s taboo.

Where We Are

The subject of poaching in lower league soccer is complicated and I’m fairly confident I should recruit Dan Creel to write a history of the practice, because he’d do a much better job of it. I’m mostly a realist when it comes to poaching, but something about this story rubs me the wrong way. NISA just plucked (or they jumped) multiple big name clubs from the NPSL (YES, I’m aware every club had reasons, but when I spoke with some league types, there was definite resentment against the up and coming pro league). So now the NPSL is looking to fill gaps in their map by doing the same thing to a regional league on the rise. A league, by the way, who expressed privately the desire to work in conjunction with the NPSL. It’s all a little disappointing, honestly.

What makes this story even more complicated is Protagonist Soccer’s media partnership with the league. However, we believe that a true partner should be honest and fair in criticism and praise. I gave the league a chance to comment and respond on multiple occasions and they chose not to. If that changes, I’ll be happy to share their response with you.

So I’m left with several conclusions:

  1. No one wants to go on the record, ever. Which leads to stories full of DM rumors that I believe to be true, but have no holding power. I’d like to put more names to quotes, but I respect any source and their desire to remain unnamed.

  2. The NPSL is making a play to grab some clubs from the GCPL, and we should expect several to jump (though 4 seems too many) in the next couple of days. This much seems clear.

  3. Where does this potential departure leave the GCPL? This is a hard question to answer at this point. Which clubs leave? How many? The answers to those questions will shape their response. I suspect they would be fine, as the league seems to be in a stable spot, but until I get more information from inside the league, I’ll hold off on speculating too much.

  4. The people who know aren’t talking. Yet. (I’m very hopeful to have more information in the next couple of days)

  5. The world of grassroots soccer could really use some cooperation between leagues to build a functional pyramid base, but the people who could do it seem determined to cut each other’s throats. It’s almost like we need our own Don Garber (but a good version). An iron hand to force things into place and keep the dogs from going at each other.

If anyone would like to go on the record (or remain anonymous) and talk blunty about this story or any other, we’d love to work with you. My email is DanVaughn@protagonistsoccer.com and my twitter is @soccerbarista.

I’m not a club owner, but as one person described me today - “a smart, passionate dude with a website that enough people care about.”

- Dan Vaughn

Update to the story: Jonathan Rednour, founder and VP Director of Operations for the Gulf Coast Premier League, reached out to me and gave this statement: “The gcpl supports the growth of its clubs and are happy to see the demand for their brand on a national scale. As an organization who has grown from one of the more soccer deprived regions in America, we’re happy to be a vessel for our clubs to grow organically at their own pace. we hope to continue to show the regional model is very much needed in the American soccer landscape. With that said, the gcpl wishes efforts would have been made to work with the league as a whole and not picked apart. We are open to any and all communications that are needed to unify the lower divisions in American soccer.”