The Professional Underdog
For fans of the National Premier Soccer League, nothing is sweeter than the Founders Cup and the launch of the professional division. We wait for every detail to hit our twitter feed and while there hasn’t been much information put out to us fans, we lurk around the eleven clubs who will be making the jump: ASC San Diego, Cal FC, California United Strikers FC, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, FC Arizona, Miami FC, Miami United FC, New York Cosmos, Oakland Roots and Milwaukee Torrent.
Many of these clubs share characteristics that the soccer world would deem pro-worthy: promising academies, large investors and/or a history of strong competition. There is one club that stands out among the rest. One club who has no academy, no large investor and is only entering in its third year of competition: Milwaukee Torrent.
Andy Davi created the Torrent back in 2015, after spending multiple years working with the Milwaukee Bavarian Soccer Club. The Torrent started in the NPSL in 2016 and won all six matches in its inaugural competition. Since joining the Great Lakes Conference in 2017, the club has only managed to win six games in two seasons. While this club hasn’t hit its stride on the field, it has an ambition to change the way grassroots soccer is looked at in its community. Andy knows that his job is tough and that he may not have the full support of his community, but he said “as long as we have one person in the stands, it's worth what we are doing. And as long as I have one kid asking me to teach them soccer we are going to continue to do what we do.”
Andy moved from Germany to the states nine years ago. He has over forty years of soccer experience thats starts with his time playing in the Bayer Leverkusen youth academy, to coaching youth clubs in Milwaukee and even coaching with the Milwaukee Bavarian Soccer Club. And while his resume should speak for itself he is still met with resistance. “ People tell me that I think I know everything because I’m from Germany, but I've been connected to this sport since i was three years old. From a player, to a coach and to a manager,” said Andy.
It is perplexing that we all partake in a soccer community that demands to have a system like those abroad, but when someone steps in to make those changes in their own community they are met with hesitation. Yes, Andy’s net worth may not rival other owners, especially the ones within the Founders Cup, but his ambition and dedication to creating a powerhouse soccer community is unlike any other. “I am one of the professional teams that doesn’t have a big check book. Every cent that we need, I have to go out and raise,” said Andy and even without that checkbook he has paid his players, offered workers comp insurance, launched a women’s team and offers free training camps to local youth organizations like the YMCA.
A new leader has joined the Torrent ranks, ahead of the 2019 Founders Cup season. Carlos “Cacho” Cordoba was named the new head coach of the NPSL side. Cacho makes his marks as one of the most experienced coaches within grassroots soccer. He played his entire career with Boca Juniors. During that time the club won three league titles, an Intercontinental Cup and two Copa Libertadores. He even spent time playing with legendary players like Diego Maradona. Cacho has a bit of U.S. soccer coaching experience as well. He was the assistant coach for the Dallas Burn in 1996-97 where he coached players like Jason Kries and Hugo Sanchez. Then in 1998 he coached the Miami Fusion who had great players like Pablo Mastroeni and Carlos Valderrama. Like Andy says “Cacho is the jackpot.”
“We have signed fifteen players. There will be players coming from out of the country who have played at a high level and players who have played previously for the Torrent. We are excited to build this roster over the next few months.”
The Mighty Dollar
Launching a soccer club always takes money. As the club elevates in quality so does its operating costs. For any club it’s important to take advantage of all the various revenue streams possible and with the increasing costs of the Founders cup and the NPSL professional division, the Torrent will be looking to to do just that.
The Milwaukee sports market is dominated by MLB, NBA and NFL. And while sponsors may want to cling to the most popular sports, those deals could cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars. Enter in the Milwaukee Torrent. “There was never anything on a lower level that was professional,” said Andy about gaining sponsors. Andy understands that going professional will help gain more sponsorship opportunities, he said “this is for visibility. When you play against the New York Cosmos and Chattanooga FC, you play against the powerhouses in US soccer. What more do you want?”
Having your product shown nationally, whether it’s on TV or streamed can increase the exposure of a team dramatically, making the professional division of the NPSL more appealing for smaller companies, and those are the partners that Andy hopes to continue to attract. The club currently has 19 sponsors, but the clubs expenses are about to skyrocket. “ My [expenses] from the NPSL to the Founders Cup have quadrupled and in the pro division it will be seven times higher,” said Andy. “You have a ton of teams that play regionally just to keep the cost down, but that's not what I want anymore. I want to go out and play the Cosmos, Chattanooga, FC Arizona, Cal United and Miami FC. But you have to work for it.”
Of course we all understand that going pro was going to bring in more costs on to each participating club, but it also brings on new revenue streams. Andy opened up about a few for the Torrent, “you get new sponsors, you get more season tickets. For the first time, we are in charge of the gate and the concession sales, which was not the case in the last two years. We can get $5,000 to $15,000 a game and when you have 15 home games that is going to help.” The math adds up as well. The NPSL side averaged 1,130 fans per match last season and WPSL side averaged 641. With almost six months until the Torrent kickoff in the Founders Cup, they have already sold around 300 season tickets.
Going pro will increase the spotlight on this club, most likely seeing the average attendance of both teams rise. Fans will be able to watch their squad during away trips, through streaming platforms such as YouTube and Mycujoo. The streamed product will help keep fans educated on their favorite club and through that process they will become more passionate. The more passionate the fan the more willing they will be to purchase merchandise. It’s all of these different revenue streams that help a club like Milwaukee Torrent thrive and by proving this concept, Andy and the Torrent can be an example to future clubs who may be in a similar situation.
Disconnected From the Youth
The ideal situation for a soccer community is to have each kid participate at a youth club and make their way to the top professional or amateur club in the community. Some organizations achieve this by running their own youth organizations. In the Founders Cup, organizations like ASC San Diego own and operate multiple academies, some of which are in the U.S. Developmental Academy. Other teams like Detroit City FC have youth affiliations with prestigious academies in the community. But a connection to a youth club doesn’t always come easy.
Speaking with other club owners, relationships between amatuer/ professional sides and youth organizations are often strained. The amatuer/ professional side want to incorporate that youth market, but the youth sides are unwilling to support the club. This leads to organizations competing for market share. Established academies create their own clubs and established clubs create their own academies. It’s a ruthless cycle that could be a detriment to growing soccer in a small community. Currently there aren’t any connections between the Torrent and local youth organizations, but that doesn’t stop the club from doing things for the children. “I go every day to host [sessions] at the boys and girls club of Milwaukee. We are even doing this for seven Milwaukee public schools,” said Andy, about his contribution to the development of youth soccer. “We’ve served over 3,300 kids in the community this year. That’s 3,300 individual kids that we taught soccer.”
One powerful connection that the Torrent have made is its partnership with the Bayer Leverkusen youth system. The same system that made Andy the player he was and the coach he is today. “For 8 years now, I have taken a group of American soccer players to Bayer Leverkusen. We watch Bundesliga games and they go into practice with the youth academy. So far I have taken over 200 American players to do this. We are finalizing the next trip and we have a group over 33 so far,” said Andy about his relationship with the Bundesliga youth system. “This is another thing that we offer and the other clubs don't jump on it,” he added. This lack of outside participation is an example of the meaningless rivalry held between organizations.
“First of all we are open to everybody and we know so many people that are committed too. We have approached multiple clubs to meet and resolve these issues. Four clubs have agreed, while others just don’t answer,” commented Andy when asked about organizing the soccer community. This disconnect from youth academies should be the most troubling for any grassroot club. With no support from the youth in the city, you lack the ability to create generational fans. You lose sight of the dream that every kid playing the sport should have, the ability to play for their local club in front of their friends, family and the community that helped raise them.
Hopefully going pro gives the Torrent organization an ability to step out and correct the issues within its soccer community. Hopefully going pro helps show the U.S. soccer landscape that developing a club with a community ethos can be financially profitable. Hopefully this local club can produce talented players, earn results and win championships. Either way this professional organization will be the underdog, but it’s a role the Torrent are willing to embrace.
- Steven Ramirez