Maryland Majors: A History of Development
Every fan’s story starts with a single moment when everything clicked and the connections fell into place: that moment when a fan is born. Lower league soccer wasn’t for me even two years ago. I was the host of a small soccer podcast that focused on Major League Soccer, followed the English Premiership on the side, played FIFA on Playstation, and that was the extent of my soccer fandom. I was barely aware that soccer existed at the regional and local levels, and certainly didn’t follow clubs or leagues from them. But then there was the match that most non-fans remember when asked about amateur soccer: Christos vs. DC United in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup.
When that story broke, I remember talking about it on the podcast. I followed DC United and, while I wasn’t steeped in the history of the Open Cup, wanted to see them advance. The video of the free kick in the 23rd minute, holding onto the lead ‘til the 80th minute, even the final score, 4-1 - it all inspired me to dig into amateur soccer. In some ways, it led to this site. That club, Christos FC plays in the Maryland Major Soccer League, a regional league in Maryland, and while its storied USOC run ended that day in June, the story of the league goes way back into the past and extends far into a bright future.
The Past and the Present
The Maryland Majors was organized as an entity in 1965, so, in its current form, the league has existed for 53 or so years. But 1965 is only the year when the Maryland Majors title was given to the league. MMSL was a direct descendent of the Baltimore Major League and Baltimore Unlimited League, which date back to the early 1920's. During this early era of American soccer, Baltimore was home to “more than 100 teams in 14 leagues at its peak in the early 1930s.” Those clubs and leagues were contemporaries of the old American Soccer League, which dominated the northeastern United States with clubs like Fall River and Bethlehem. From those early roots, Maryland Majors has grown to one of the best-run regional leagues in the country.
Currently the league is home to 21 teams, adding two this offseason (Fortitude FC and Meade United). While the name might suggest that the clubs are only from Maryland, this fall, the league expanded outside the state with, according to Commissioner Bill George, “The goal of offering USASA elite competition to clubs around the DC beltway. In doing so we brought in our first team based out of Virginia - Motorik FC ALX.” But that expansion may signal more to come outside the league’s base in Maryland. “We are open to other clubs from the mid-Atlantic joining whether it is Delaware, Pennsylvania (particularly the central York area which is only an hour from Baltimore), West Virginia, or Virginia.”
The MMSL is set up with two divisions. The 1st Division has six clubs, a small number of teams, but the commissioner actually touts this as an asset - “The top six teams in Div. 1 are all quality and there is not much drop off like we used to have years ago when we had a nine to twelve team 1st Division.” Those six teams are fighting for the right to remain in the 1st Division as the league uses a promotion and relegation system between its divisions. The 2nd Division has two conferences and a total of thirteen teams (though that number may have changed with the expansion clubs). Through a system of playoff matches, each season sees a club (or two) rise to the 1st Division to battle with big boys. A 3rd Division may be in the future of the league, if expansion continues.
If you read down the list of league winners, you’ll see an unbroken history of soccer excellence, a regional league that keeps true to its roots while pressing for new ground in the future. There’s a future story about a club named “Max Blobs,” back to back champions in ‘64 and ‘65, but that story hasn’t been written yet. But that connection to history and legacy makes even more sense when you consider that the league commissioner is a product of his league.
A Product of the League
Bill George, commissioner of Maryland Majors since 2013, played in the league in the early 2000’s before moving into coaching with Pipeline SC. But much like his league, his history in the sport goes much further back. After a successful youth soccer career (club, ODP, and HS) growing up in central New Jersey, George went on to play four years of college soccer at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. After finishing his college career, he continued as a college coach at both Emory and at Ferrum College in Virginia and earned his USSF "C" license. He developed his understanding of the business side of the game, focusing on marketing - first working for the Atlanta Silverbacks in the old A-League and later with the San Jose Earthquakes of MLS.
Off the field, Bill George has been a practicing attorney since 2006 and has additional sports management and soccer experience working at IMG (sports management firm) and the Maryland Stadium Authority. Since 2008, George has been involved with the Maryland State Soccer Association (currently holding the position of Secretary) and United States Adult Soccer Association (Delegate).
For George, the goals of his league lie in focusing on product on the field: “first class administration, great fields, officials and the highest level of competition possible.” Beyond that base, the leagues will “aim to promote the clubs and players to help them meet their individual goals whatever they may be. Most importantly, George envisions the league as a “good citizen in our community and contributing members of the Maryland soccer community.” With a history so deep-rooted in the state, it’s no surprise that MMSL values the community that gives the league life.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
I asked the commissioner about that match that caught so many peoples’ eyes in 2017 and what effect it had on Maryland Majors. “The amount of coverage that Christos rightfully garnered benefitted the League as well in terms of exposure. Christos has proudly played in the Maryland Majors for twenty years and we are proud of their accomplishments and proud of any of our clubs that do well in national tournaments. The League worked closely with Christos and the Maryland State Soccer Association to organize many of the busloads of Baltimore supporters that travelled down to the SoccerPlex for that memorable game vs. DC United.”
There’s something exciting about a regional league backing one of its clubs in a competition unrelated to league play. George and the rest of Maryland Majors leadership take this part of their job serious- their clubs and players have the backing and support of the league. That model has made MMSL one of the finest regional leagues in the country. Trace the line back through modern clubs like Christos, through the mid-century clubs like Max Blobs, back to even older leagues, it’s a timeline that’s more than table results and league winners, it’s thousands of players that have come through this league. It’s a history of player development and mentoring that defines Bill George and Maryland Majors Soccer League.