Beloved BlueGreens Brethren,
This edition of the Football Homily comes rather late, but I felt it was important to share it as it offers some personal insight. Every year at the beginning of December the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) organizes its Annual Owners Meeting. This year it was hosted by Minneapolis City SC in the crisp climate of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In spite of the cold, which scared many executives from clubs located in warmer climates, the gathering was successful and enjoyable. As one who attends many such assemblies of people, both as a participant and a speaker, I always make a list of “takeaways”, so I will share them
with you here. This was my third such annual experience representing Duluth FC at the NPSL AOM thus there were two other points of reference for the sake of comparison.
First it is important to note that it was far better organized than the previous two AOMs, which isn’t to say it was perfect. Truthfully, my personal opinion is that Orlando 2016 & New Orleans 2017 lacked in some ways. By comparison, Minneapolis 2018 was a significant improvement. The agenda was rather closely adhered to, individuals are always prone to speaking longer than the allotted time (consider this as personal confession) but all was managed rather well and proceeded with efficiency. The break-out rooms were easily accessible and in very close proximity. While it felt crowded on a few occasions it gave everyone the opportunity to interact with executives of other clubs easily.
Preparation for the upcoming 2019 season seemed to have begun in earnest and stability was the general feeling. A handful of clubs were not returning and a handful of new clubs have replaced them. This itself is a very good sign considering there are nearly 100 NPSL clubs spread out throughout the country. Some realignments of conferences were expected but little took place, thus in this respect the NPSL is doing well. More clubs than ever before had already begun preparations including early signings of players.
There was an increased number of suppliers in the Vendors Village, and the usual suspects of speakers were present. USASA President John Motta again took the time to speak with the clubs as well as interact outside of meetings. He is one of the more gracious and open people I’ve had the opportunity to meet since my involvement in the bureaucracy and politics of our sport. His dedication is impressive to say the least. He spoke with great passion about the amateur side of football/soccer in the US with some valuable time dedicated to the US Open Cup and the US Amateur Cup. Needless to say, the USOC occupied more attention precisely because most clubs at our level feel disadvantaged by the United States Soccer Federation with regards to USOC participation. Some NPSL clubs had experience in the USAC but its prominence and value to the sport overall is not on par with the USOC.
The mood was filled with excitement but also with a fair bit of uncertainty as everyone arrived knowing that at least a portion of the discussion would be dedicated to the establishment of a new league, or an upper tier, comprised of clubs that are ready to pay players and compete in a longer season. Indeed there were portions of the AOM specifically dedicated to what is now known as the NPSL Founders Cup which includes 11 clubs currently. There were certainly many questions and even some doubts and concerns from clubs throughout the country. The conversation was thoughtful and careful. All the questions and concerns were given genuine and serious consideration and abundant information was shared with all the member clubs. My personal evaluation is that the conversation began with uncertainty but it ended with excitement and encouragement. All the clubs participating in the inaugural Founders Cup along with NPSL Board of Directors were truly thoughtful about the entire league and about the beautiful game in our country over all. I am truly encouraged by this step even though Duluth FC is not likely to take this step in the immediate future. The possibilities, however, are much enlarged by this decision. I would characterize this portion of the meeting by the this verse: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1) Truly, the league felt as one entity committed to remain strong and healthy through the process and I value that greatly.
But in addition to this and many other aspects discussed, Minneapolis 2018 will likely go down in NPSL history books as the AOM of change. First, Cindy Spera is the new Managing Director of the league staff, replacing Jef Thiffault, who was a good man with good ideas for the sport, but he had decided early in the fall to pursue other opportunities. He remains a supporter and friend of the NPSL. More notable, however, is the fact that Joe Barone, long time Chairperson of the NPSL Board of Directors decided to step down. It is impossible to overstate all that this man has done for the NPSL. It is safe to say that he lived and breathed for our league his entire time as Chair of the BoD, fully embodying his Italian and New Yorker personality. He has been a direct and vocal advocate for us before the USSF, and he will likely continue in that fervor. I have gotten to know him during the Fall of 2016 during the negotiations of merging our old league, the American Premier League into the NPSL. I venture to characterize Joe Barone’s service to the NPSL by this Gospel verse: “His Lord said unto him ‘Well done, good and faithful servant…” (Matthew 25:21). Thank you Joe!
Barone will continue to be involved in the league as his engagement with both New York Cosmos and Brooklyn Italians will continue but the league elected a new successor in its former secretary. Joe’s successor is Kenny Farrell of the New Orleans Jesters, who was humble in his acceptance speech. Kenny will likely bring a different flavor of leadership, but his dedication is unquestionable I look forward to it. The new Chair will see the NPSL go through likely one of its most historic transitions with the creation of the new tier. He will need to thoughtfully approach every decision and most importantly surround himself with many other good and dedicated capable people. He will have to bear in mind this verse: “Where there is no counsel the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors, there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14) Thankfully, the NPSL has plenty of very capable and diverse people with skill sets in every possible area.
There is no doubt in my mind that 2019 will be a bigger and better year for the league and for our club, and I enter it with enthusiasm. May all the work done at this AOM be blessed to produce good results for the well-being of all the clubs!