Ask anyone that owns a football club and they’ll usually trace their soccer journey back to a particular match or childhood love affair with the Beautiful Game.
FC Arizona founder Scott Taylor says his ambitions to own and run his own club were inspired by a trip to Scotland four years ago when he took in an SPL match between Dundee and Aberdeen at Dens Park.
Now in 2019, he finds himself with a club at the forefront of the burgeoning National Professional Soccer League scene that is challenging some of the sacred cows of US soccer such as promotion and relegation, salary caps and player transfers and cash before competition.
FC Arizona was founded three years ago by the owner of the local Taylor insurance agency. His club are based in the Mesa High School Stadium, in Mesa Arizona and have become a leading light in the soccer-reforming National Professional Soccer League (NPSL).
He says: “I was completely inspired by the experience of that game in Dundee, the passion of the crowd, the commitment of the players and the spectacle for fans. It completely captured my imagination.
“Here in Arizona I can sense similar demand for an earthier, less manufactured brand of football and that’s what our club is all about. To that end, my original experience in Scotland, and the mark it left on me, has been commemorated on the club’s badge – a Scottish Lion Rampant.”
FC Arizona attracted just under 3,000 people for the inaugural fixture in March 2017, a 5-0 Victory over UPSL side Real San Jose and they’ve continued to go from strength to strength.
Scott Taylor says; “I am just a family guy, an amateur coach who’s interest in founding a club came about from looking to get my young son into a boys’ team back in 2014, after visiting Scotland.”
Although the league is officially affiliated to the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) and qualifies for the U.S. Open Cup through USASA channels, the National Premier Soccer League is generally considered to be at the fourth tier of competition in the United States soccer pyramid.
The National Premier Soccer League’s is divided into four separate Regions (Northeast, South, Midwest, and West). Each region is divided into conferences with varying number of teams per conference. The regular season runs from May to July with the exception of the West Region that has historically started in late March or early April.
The NPSL ranks behind Major League Soccer (MLS), the USL Championship (USLC), USL League One (USL1), and is considered equivalent to USL League Two (USL2) in status. The NPSL is the successor of the Men’s Premier Soccer League, a regional league originally based in the Western United States, which has now expanded nationwide to encompass teams from 29 states. The league’s motto is “A National League with a Regional Focus”.
There is no doubt that this uprising – that the NPSL is at the head of – has been brought about by the US’s failure to qualify for the World Cup 2018. The leadership of the USSF has been widely scrutinised and criticised, and in the scramble to answer the question ‘where to next?’ the call for a new movement and a fully professional game along European Lines has come to the fore.
The NPSL have also tapped into a nascent demand for a league based around truly national regional competition, promotion and relegation and also fan and community ownership.
Scott Taylor says: “There has to be an alternative to the billionaire boys’ club of MLS. And so far we can see our alternative solution finding its niche. In our division, which is a fourth tier league, you will regularly rack up attendances upwards of 7,000 spectators at certain games. That’s a very respectable number, even by comparable UK standards.”
At at the moment, the NPSL is a home for professional teams outside the system. Not being recognised by the United States Soccer Federation has made these new clubs renegades by necessity, and has led club owners to take matters into their own hands, to create their own distinct ecosystem of established teams with financially stable league for them to play in.
FC Arizona can regularly count on attendances of 2,500 in their stadium. A well-known name such as New York’s Cosmos can expect a crowd of around 6,000 for home games.
Scott Taylor says that the distinction between MLS and the NPSL might ultimately compare to the status of Rugby Union and Rugby League within the United Kingdom – two near-identical peacefully coexisting sports with very different fan bases.
Taylor says that the NPSL will be the first competition of US soccer to truly treat America as a continent. At the moment there are 28 teams from 20 different states. Expansion, along regional lines is planned for the future and Taylor is sure that this will lead to a far more interesting proposition than corporate soccer’s MLS where three men have effectively owned 10 teams as the franchise holders and owners of the league.
Another reason why the NPSL has captured the imagination of would-be owners is the potential for player trading and transfers to generate incomes for clubs – just as it does in Europe.
Taylor says: “Ultimately we’re looking at a league of professional players, 30-40 teams and a TV deal within the next 3-4 years. If we can maintain our rate of progress, the USSF won’t be able to ignore us and neither will ESPN.”
Already there are some familiar names involved within NPSL club’s. Scott Taylor’s assistant coach at FC Arizona is Paul Rideout, the former Aston Villa, Rangers and Everton striker. Paul Dalglish, ex-Newcastle United and son of Kenny, is Head Coach at Miami Heat. Brian Welsh the former Hibernian and Dundee United defender coaches Northern Virginia United FC.
As such, Scott Taylor sees FC Arizona’s hook up with another Europe-focused organisation in Prep4Pro as vital to his club’s expansion plans. The partnership with Prep4Pro will see FC Arizona host and invitation, only combine (trial) for players looking to graduate to Prep4Pro’s annual player showcase program in Williamsburg, Virginia.
He says: “Ultimately we want to bring better players here and have a means to place the players we develop at other clubs here and overseas. this is all part of making FC Arizona a club that good players will want to sign for and that home-grown talent will look at as an important stepping stone in the development of their careers.”
But in this respect, the club owner says that the FC Arizona is refreshingly familiar. In a league led by enthusiasts it isn’t really so noteworthy a journey, over the last 3-4 years.
He says: “Really FC Arizona is just one story among hundreds in the NPSL. Were you to speak to anybody at Detroit City at Chattanooga or any of the other teams in this league you’d get a similar account: a story of people motivated to start a local team for no other reason than a shared passion for the game and a desire to contribute something of value to the communities that they live in.”