USL President Jake Edwards Cultivating American Soccer


This is an interview with Jake Edwards and his passionate aspiration for the growth of American soccer and the United Soccer League.

The United Soccer League (USL) is 30 game regular season professional soccer league between their 29 participating clubs comprised of the United States and additions from Canada.

The USL provides an environment for the evolution of American soccer by creating a fan-fueled atmosphere where players can develop.

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Growth is contagious in a league with a total season attendance of 1.5 million, a striking increase from the previous season’s crowd of 1.1 million. Average attendance for the top 10 teams stood at 6,700, a 25% increase from 2015.

USL is engaging soccer fans across the states. People are responding, they’re showing up to games, cheering, proclaiming in the name of soccer.

Soccer is being defined.

By being a part of the American soccer pyramid, they’re helping invest in the advancement of players of all levels, from grassroots to players potentially plying their trade in MLS.

The effects will be sprouted all throughout the layers of soccer. It’s a measure of depth to organized soccer in the U.S.

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Enjoy a candid conversation with someone with the prosperity of soccer in mind.

Meet Jake Edwards. He’s the President of the USL.

He and the organization of USL are enrooting the aurora of soccer into the lives of Americans.

Let’s begin.

Q: To be in the position that you are right now, President of the USL. President of a tier in the American soccer pyramid, you must have an affinity for this sport.

What’s your relationship to soccer? What does it mean to you?

"A: “It’s the one thing that has been the biggest influence on my life without a doubt. I’ve been in the game one way or another. Certainly at all levels, youth development, collegiate, and professionally. The game has had a massive influence on my life. Direction. People I’ve met. Personal relationships. Lifelong friends and teammates with strong bonds. Playing the game, it’s a team sport. Being in that environment gives you a sense of morals and values that stay with you. Discipline, commitment, teamwork, and fostering relationships. A lot of those attributes you get from football. It’s how I got about my daily job, how I go about my day.”"

Q: You’ve played the sport to a professional level. Playing in England, the States and other places abroad.

How has this amalgamation of soccer cultures you’ve experienced influenced your understanding of the global sport?

"A: “The big take away from experiencing football overseas is how important it (soccer) is to that culture in day to day life. The average person that isn’t a ‘die hard’ soccer fan is still aware of the latest controversy and the weekend’s results. It’s in people’s daily lives. If your team loses on the weekend, it affects the whole week.The sport is extremely important. It’s the sporting language of the world. You see how important it is culturally. How important it is to the players. For the most part, it’s a working class sport. It’s an opportunity to get out of the situation you’re in, to move up.”"

Q: Describe the philosophy of the league, regarding player development, a partnership with MLS and league development.

"A: “We’re about creating the highest level of football competition under MLS. The aspiration is to be one of the top second divisions of the world.We focus on building the league on certain foundational pillars. One part of that is ownership; world-class ownership. They’re people with experience that have operated in the NBA, MLS, MLB but they’re also with people that are locally based and associated to those communities.Originality. Natural rivalries. More and more of those. Derby games. We’re starting to see hundreds of fans traveling for the derby. Thinking about local rivalries and how to expand those. Stadiums. We have a major mission for soccer-specific stadiums for all our teams. We have 29 teams this season, and 12 are in soccer-specific stadiums. No team can join without a plan to build a stadium."


"“Our partnership with MLS. It’s a unique model we’ve tried to pioneer. Look at ways we can impact the development of professional players. How can we accelerate that development through USL? League loans, that’s something we wanted to formalize for a more exclusive relationship.MLS teams can field a team of their own in the USL. This concept was pioneered by the LA Galaxy. 11 out of the 29 teams are owned and operated by an MLS club. Those players are some of the next brightest and best players that you’re going to see. Players are moving onto the first division first team, so it’s great to see that.”"

League development..

"League development. The digital side of the business. We have a digital first strategy by engaging through all platforms out there. We launched all teams onto a single platform giving us the opportunity to share league wide content.In the past, it’s (live games) been broadcasted by the teams themselves. Fans watching these games have to have a good experience. Now we’ll be working this year with ESPN and the ESPN3 platform. It’ll put cameras at the stadium while production crew graphics, replays, and announcers will be off site. It’ll massively reduce costs for teams and league, but doesn’t affect quality.”"

Q: Let’s touch on stability and longevity within these expansion teams. FC Cincinnati, an expansion side, totaled a league record of 259,437 fan attendance for the season. They also averaged a league-record 17,296 fans per game.

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Louisville, in its second season, averaged over 7,000 fans per game.

Only three teams out of 29 surpassed at least 100,000 in attendance during the regular season. Two of those happen to be Cincinnati and Louisville.

How have the league and expansion teams been able to create an environment for this unparalleled success?

"A: “New teams have done tremendously well. It set the bar high and challenges established clubs to rethink or reinvest in certain areas of the business from fan attendance to commercial partners; it brings everyone up. Everyone starts to re-evaluate.It’s been great to see Cincinnati’s success in year one. They performed beyond everyone’s expectations. We knew the ingredients were there with top quality ownership, and support from the university with the ability to use their stadium. At some point in time seeing 30,000 people at USL match seemed to be far ways off, but here we are. Shows that anything is possible.”"

"“Things need to come together. If you have the right people behind it and engage the supporters, then you can build something really special there. Sacramento is having a continuous sellout for the last three years. Something positive is happening, and it’s not a fluke. We have to help affect this by selecting the right owners and markets. We are a service company. Servicing our clubs ownership and fans.”"

Q: 2016 USL Cup Playoffs end on October 23rd with the 2016 USL Cup Final live on ESPNU and the WatchESPN app beginning at 5 p.m. PT.

How important is it to give the teams and their supporters the opportunity to see their team via different mediums?

"A: “Critical. You got a million and a half (fans) going to the games, but we have 17 million fans online. How do we convert more of them to go? Only so many people can go to the game, but we can get reach an exponential amount of people on the broadcast.It’s a great opportunity to showcase the atmosphere in the stadium. We’ll invest heavily to get the broadcast to be at a very high quality and secure local television deals for at least the home games. We’re working through ESPN, to bring our games to a wider audience. It’s a local product, but there’s desire to have it showcased at the national level, to be able to bring the game into the household.”"

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You can catch the USL Cup Final this Sunday, October 23rd at 5 p.m. PT. on ESPNU and the WatchESPN app.

You can also follow USL action via their Facebook, Vine, Instagram, Twitter and their Youtube channel.