USL President Jake Edwards Speaks About Soccer in NorCal
With both (it’s complicated) of the second divisions in American soccer kicking off their seasons in just over a week, NorCal Premier Soccer had the opportunity to speak with United Soccer League President Jake Edwards on the past, present, and future of the league in Northern California.
As of now, Sacramento Republic FC is the only USL franchise in Northern California, for which Edwards placed high praise on the impact the Republic have made on the USL.
When Sacramento entered the league in 2014, there were only 14 teams, few of which drew sizable crowds.
That all changed when the Republic fit 20,231 into Hughes Stadium for the then-largest game ever attended in the league.
Several teams have since followed suit, and the league now features a total of 30 franchises, 22 more than the NASL, the United States’ other second division, which will see a Northern California team enter its fold for the first time this year with the coming of the San Francisco Deltas.
“Sacramento came and certainly had a tremendous opening and sold out well over 20,000 in the first couple of games in the college and then sold out every game,” Edwards said. “They put a flag in the ground. They meant business. They were going to shake things up and break some records.
“Sacramento were one of the early pioneers of that and they continue to be,” Edwards added. “They continue to sell out every game and do tremendously well on and off the field. A number of the clubs in our league are in that same category. We’re certainly very proud of what Sacramento has written for the USL.”
What Sacramento has written may soon be joined by more USL franchises as Edwards said the USL is currently mulling over bids in both Fresno and the Bay Area, both of which hope to construct soccer-specific stadiums like Papa Murphy’s Park in Sacramento.
“We’re in an interesting place and we’re getting a lot of interest in a number of markets, certainly in California, there are a lot of, I think, exciting cities that I think could be tremendously successful as a soccer market, as a USL market,” Edwards said.
NorCal Premier Soccer then asked Edwards his thoughts on one of the long-range goals that NorCal has put forward in recommending that every club member of NorCal eventually develop some sort of a first team.
“I’m a big believer in creating a connected pathway to the professional level, all the way down to the youngest youth level and giving players the opportunity to see a way through to the various levels, whether that’s through the youth club into the top level, which might be a PDL team, for the players to come back, the top college players might want to come back to the city and play in the PDL club,” Edwards said.
“I think the USL teams can play a very positive role and we have a full time department here, a full time staff that works on the youth development initiatives with the USL and all of their member clubs,” he added. “We have sort of youth development guidelines that we work with all of our clubs about how to navigate the local landscape and how to engage with the local clubs in the most-effective, mutually-beneficial way for the two organizations and for the sport as a whole. It’s something we’re working hard on.”