Union Dubuque F.C. made their début in the UPSL Midwest Conference in 2018, finishing strongly after a slow start. Now they are looking to make their mark in two more competitions and build on the lessons learned in their first year. I spoke with Union Dubuque president Cliff Conrad about the team and his new responsibilities as UPSL Midwest Conference Manager.
The last year must have been a bit of a roller coaster for you. How do you think it went?
I think the first year went pretty well, all things considered. At this level there's a lot to be said for finishing a season and feeling genuinely optimistic about the next one.
For starters, the response from fans was great. Until you open the doors on day one and people show up, it is extremely difficult to predict the response you will get. We had about 400 fans at our first game and I was thrilled with the vocal support from Uncle Julien's Army, the supporter's group that popped up just a few days before the home opener. We had great, consistent support from them, even in late June when things had sagged a bit after a run of losses and the mid-season doldrums. As the season progressed to July, we pulled out a few great victories that I think energized the supporters and led to more interest, but the season is so short that it's difficult to capitalize on any momentum created.
On the field, things didn't begin quite as we had hoped, but that was inevitable given that you never know how competitive you will be until you play. Ee lost 2-1 on the road to Aurora [Borealis] in our first match but were the better team throughout the game, so I had great hope for the rest of the season. The problem is that the season is so short that a few bad results in the first three games can really sink your season before it even gets going. That's one reason we're looking to enter the National Amateur Cup and Open Cup qualifying this year—the opportunity to compete on multiple fronts means there's more opportunities to find form and kick on from there.
That leads me to my next question: Union Dubuque recently announced they would be entering three competitions this year: the UPSL, the National Amateur Cup, and the Open Cup. How are preparations going in this regard?
We targeted the U.S. National Amateur Cup as a key competition for us a long time ago. Last year, we were prevented from participating by poor communication from the state association and USASA Region II. After some changes to the entry procedure, we're confident that we will be in it this year. Obviously, having more games requires a deeper squad, and the games will likely have to be played midweek. The U.S. Open Cup is a bit different again. We may hold supplemental tryouts at the end of the season for players who could fill a role on that squad, but it will most likely be a much different team that we'll see during the summer.
You must have learned a lot over the last year. Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew last year?
I think one thing that would have made a huge difference last year is having more defined structure to our organization as a club. When it came to gamedays, I was effectively calling the shots on everything except what was happening on the field. One of the biggest changes we've made since is appointing directors in a variety of positions to take some of that responsibility. Plus, it's a great way to get people who are passionate about helping and are very capable at what they do involved with the club.
How has your new role as conference manager informed your work with Union Dubuque, and vice-versa?
I've been fortunate to see how a lot of things run at this level. The biggest issue is that not every club wants the same things, and when you add in varying levels of adherence to differing values and goals, you end up doing something akin to herding cats to build consensus around even basic decisions. I took the position because I do want to grow the game, and someone needed to step up when the previous CM resigned mid-season. I saw it as a great opportunity, and it has largely been a positive experience.
Cedar Rapids Inferno was recently announced as a new expansion team in the UPSL Midwest Conference. They will become the third Iowa team (after the Des Moines Menace and Union Dubuque) when just two years ago there was only one. You must have had a hand in smoothing their path, since it usually takes a year for teams to go from announcement to conference play?
Helping Kenan [Malicevic] with the start of Cedar Rapids Inferno was one experience that I've enjoyed immensely. We had talks with Kenan about returning as a player for us, because he was an important part of our team last year. However, it seemed like his new job was going to limit his ability to come to Dubuque for training, so he made a very mature decision not to occupy a spot on our practice and gameday roster in order to let someone who can commit fully to the team join. When he came to me shortly after that saying he was talking to some people about bringing a club to Cedar Rapids, I figured that was the next best thing that could happen for Union Dubuque! So, I provided the insight and (admittedly minimal) experience I've gained over the last two years or so and encouraged him on. Really, all I've done is send him emails and texts. He's the one that's gone out and found support in the community, and I can't wait to travel down there in April to take them on!
For more information, check out Union Dubuque on Twitter (@uniondfc).