The State of Soccer: Oregon Part 2
Eugene, Oregon, the well-known home base for hippies as well as the collegiate grid-iron Ducks of the University of Oregon. Home to extensive wide-open spaces; just hours away from skiing in the Cascades at Mt. Bachelor, or an hour the other direction to site-seeing or even surfing in the Pacific Ocean. Located at the southern-most end of the Willamette Valley, Eugene and its neighbor city, Springfield, have an estimated combined population of 230,000 residents, which is the bulk of the folks living in Lane County. While soccer has always been a popular sport for the kids to play, outside of a popular indoor culture for adult participation, there has not been an actual resident soccer team to root for, professional or otherwise.
It isn’t as though there aren’t soccer fans in Eugene or Springfield, or that those soccer fans completely missed the Soccer City USA madness and fanaticism of the NASL’s Portland Timbers in the heady days of flash 70’s soccer. Or even the reincarnation of the Timbers as, first an A-League team, then a member of the USL, and finally as one of the most exciting teams in Major League Soccer. No, nobody missed that—its just that Lane County is 110 miles south of Portland and if you’re a fan, you might make a pilgrimage, but you’ll probably watch it on TV—you’ll probably watch a lot of soccer on TV. Nobody thought to put a team in the middle of god’s country, but that all changed in 2013 when the Galas brothers wanted to translate the existing soccer culture, into a fanbase and save a landmark building simultaneously. We reached out to Dave Galas, owner of Lane United FC, to get the story on the birth of a soccer team in Eugene/Springfield and to the Timbers Army regional supporter’s group, Echo Squadron, about multi-tasking which soccer teams to support.
How did Lane United come to be: when were you founded, but also, why was the club started?
We have a great soccer culture here, so I always thought a team would do well, but no one had tried it. I had never considered trying it myself, but I reached out to some of the people who were trying to save Civic Stadium from becoming a big box store to see if I could help. I was told that they really had a chicken/egg problem. They were convinced they could save the stadium if they had a team to play there, but they couldn’t get a team to move here without having a stadium secured.
My brother, John, has been in soccer his whole professional life, so I picked his brain a bit. We decided on a name, I worked on some logo ideas, ran them past designer friends of mine, floated the idea to some soccer friends of mine, got a small sponsorship, passed the hat in the community, and the next thing I knew I had successfully demonstrated to a few local people that there was enough interest and support to invest in the club. I then went about getting our investors vetted by the PDL and tried to get an exhibition match set up. On July 18, 2013, we were unveiled as a new PDL franchise, and played an exhibition match against the Timbers U-23s. We lost 3-0.
Had there been a club in your area before? What's the soccer scene in Eugene / Springfield like? Mostly youth and college players, or is there a larger soccer culture as well? Fans of overseas clubs looking for a place to put their hearts locally?
The closest thing we had to what Lane United is was an OPSL team run by the youth club that is now the Timbers’ Affiliate here in Eugene. There is a thriving soccer scene here with indoor leagues, city leagues, an Over 35 league that we run, two competitive youth clubs, a few rec clubs, the UO women’s team, and due to the university, a vibrant international community heavily invested in viewing parties, pickup games, etc. We also have one of the best supported TA Regional Supporters’ Groups in the Echo Squad.
Are you associated with any local youth programs? Where does the club draw its players from? A lot of teams at this level of soccer are nearly dependent upon college students to fill out a roster, but are there any players who have come up through a development system? Any non-collegiate players who are just amazing local-talent and made the squad?
Not formally. We do have good relationships with the youth clubs in town, and have players and coaches who are involved with them. We do rely heavily on college players, but we also pull internationally. At first, John and I were traveling to Spain and staging tryouts, but in the last five years or so we have seen a pretty dramatic rise in the number of internationals playing at the college level here. If you look at All-Conference lists, All-American lists, etc. it is now not uncommon to have seven or eight of the eleven be internationals. That’s nice, since that usually means the players have had a bit more cultural acclimatization time and have had to work on their English a bit more. The problem, of course, is that we run up against the limit of international players we can carry in the squad.
We do have a strong local talent pool, most of whom do play in college and we try to bring them home to play for us. We are also always pleasantly surprised by guys who go through the tryout process and earn a spot on the team that way.
Your club has helped quite a few players make it to the professional ranks in the last few years. Is this the goal of the organization? Are there any players who have moved on which stand out in particular?
That is a part of our organization we are very proud of. This year we had five former players drafted in the Super draft in Chicago, three of whom have been signed and the other two look like they will be signed at the USL Championship level. They join a pretty long list of players who have gone on to sign pro contracts, which all started with Khiry Shelton who was the second overall pick in the 2015 draft and has recently moved to Bundesliga 2.
We are very proud of our track record in that regard, but our goal is move up to USL league One and sign some of those players ourselves.
Lane United also seemed to move their coach into a higher level of soccer. John Galas has moved on to coach for FC Tucson. Who is your new coach and how important is coaching development in addition to player development?
Club culture is huge for us. John had a key role in developing that on the field with our style of play and how we approach the game, so when he moved to Tucson, it didn’t take me long to decide that moving Conner Cappelletti up from Assistant to Head Coach was the right move. Conner has been with us literally from day one - he played in that first ever game against the Timbers U-23s - and rewarding him for the time he’s put in made sense, as did the opportunity to continue uninterrupted down the same path in terms of philosophy, culture, operations, etc.
As we grow, and hopefully move up to USL League One, we’d like to keep the League Two team, not just to get the aforementioned players into the system with hopes of signing them down the road, but to provide a similar incubator for coaches.
Some clubs love to bring in teams from other leagues for friendlies; sometimes this is to provide competitive matches to the squad, sometimes it’s to draw a crowd. Do you have plans for matches with clubs outside your league?
As you know, in our corner of the world there are a ton of teams participating in a ton of leagues. The levels of professionalism vary greatly, but while it is my hope that before my time on this planet is up, we might see a unified national soccer structure, I am keen to support clubs who share a passion for the game and an honest, professional approach toward how they manage things. Therefore, we are always trying to arrange friendlies with the top clubs in the region, regardless of what leagues they may compete in.
What match or matches is the club most looking forward to? Do you have a rival? Do other clubs in Oregon pose a rivalry, or do you view them as friendly competition?
League opener and home opener are the two I look forward to most every year. It’s a short but intense season, and this time of year we are so busy getting things in place, that by the time the opener arrives, it means all the other work is done and we get to focus more on the competition. We also have a pretty good record on opening day, 3-1-1, which always helps. From an operations standpoint the home opener is huge, so getting that out of the way is always a major milestone.
With the number of MLS Timbers fans in our area, of course they love to hate the Sounders, but our biggest rival has to be the Timbers U-23s. That team moving to Salem just brought things a little closer and made things a bit more intense. There is rumor of some sort of rivalry trophy this year as well.
From a front office standpoint, we are truly blessed here in the NW Division. Every club helps every other club with whatever needs to be done for us to succeed. It’s one thing to focus on your club, but in this business you’re only as strong as the league you’re in, and the NW Division of USL League Two is as strong as it gets, on and off the pitch.
In a state so tied-in to its soccer, its not surprising that the Reds have a dedicated supporter’s group—it seems to come with the territory. Echo Squadron are a Timbers Army regional supporters’ group, but also recognize the need to nurture and support your local club, especially when trips to see the Timbers are full-weekend events; traveling several hours north to the Rose City and then back again. To get a better idea of how and why Echo Squadron do what they do, and where they got started, I reached out to Adam Smith, current Board President of Red Aces—the Lane United Supporters Group side of the soccer support in Lane County.
Tell me how the Red Aces got their start? Are they a member of the ISC (Independent Supporters Trust)?
We are not officially part of any ISC, although that has been discussed. We are just not quite sure what advantages (or criticisms) a move like that would bring. At this point, our season is so short that we just want to get out there and max out our 10-week season, you know?
How many members do you have and are you active in the community? Any current community efforts you want to plug?
Our “paid” memberships started at 140 in 2014 and we had 88 paid members last year. At first, we envisioned ourselves as a group that not only supported LUFC with volunteer activity and rooting but also had a benevolent community presence. We did a few non-profit volunteer events in the beginning, but never really could find that momentum. I think we have a lot of sensitive, caring members, but in reality, no one could find the time or commitment for community involvement.
We did play a huge role in saving Civic Stadium from 2013-2015. Many of us marched in parades and advocated in the community to keep Civic a public sports space, and I personally attended all school district and city council meetings on the Civic topic. We sold custom scarves and operated a beer garden for the Civic opening ceremony and donated those proceeds to the effort. The Red Aces were present at City Hall during the ceremony where Civic was officially bought by the city.
Are all Red Aces also Echo Squadron? Or is there a group who only have diamonds in their eyes (see what I did there?)
The founding members of Red Aces are part of the Echo Squadron and have been forever. When the opportunity to do something local came around with the Red Aces in 2013, however, we just didn’t get the crossover we wanted because the Timbers season is already in full swing by the time our mini-season starts in May. That is a problem we still have today. Since we moved our Echo Squadron home to Level Up Barcade in 2017, Echo Squadron had basically doubled in size, but we are still struggling on how to wrestle attention away from PTFC and on to our local club. I see a few reasons why we haven’t achieved the local growth we were hoping for:
1. TIMBERS!!!!! They will always capture the hearts and minds of the locals because it’s the only other “major league” club besides the Blazers. There’s just so much attention paid to the Timbers schedule and many of our Eugene folks have PTFC season tickets or make most of their matches. And now that the local youth program in Eugene is now “Eugene Timbers”, we are not attracting those kids and parents. As a matter of fact, we see some of these local kids and parents sitting on the PTFCU23 side when they come to town. Oooooof, that smarts.
2. Soccer snobbery (I used to be in this category). There are many people around here that think that MLS is still a bush-league affair, so there’s just no way we are going to capture these people and have them watch developmental soccer at our level. My view of this has changed after watching the lads these last five seasons. I now enjoy watching them develop and then move to the next level.
3. May/June/July… these are the months where the days start getting longer, the weather gets better, and after 6 months of Willamette Valley fall/winter, people are scratching at the walls to get out for camping, trips, etc. Our season also happens during the “Dads and Grads” season, and there are so many families planning reunions, trips, graduation events, etc. There are weekends I’d rather be out camping than sitting in the rain for a low-level soccer match… so I totally get it.
- Joshua Duder