TAUNTON, Mass. – On March 30th, as rain drizzled down on some 30 fans and onlookers, another chapter in New England soccer history was written. Clad in green and black, Greater Lowell United FC (GLUFC) made its public debut versus Mass United FC on field #13 at the Taunton ForeKicks soccer complex.
Consistently attacking Mass United for most of the match, the inaugural GLUFC roster christened the franchise with a 3-1 victory as Lowell-native Ariel Lobo scored the team’s first official goal.
On the surface, it was a good season opener for any team in the Massachusetts State Soccer League (MSSL), a state league affiliated with the United States Amateur Soccer Association (USASA). But internally, as part of a plan set in motion in 2013, the win meant a great deal to the club, including its co-founder and Director of Operations, Tim Melican.
“Huge, absolutely massive,” Melican said. “It meant a lot to us as a team, and also on a personal level for both me and the MSSL head coach Daniel Hristov, since we both volunteered with Mass United in the past.”
The MSSL team, along with its counterpart in another state division, the Bay State Soccer League (BSSL), make up the base of GLUFC’s own club pyramid, in a matter of speaking. The two sides serve as player pools/second squads competing in a “preseason” for Lowell’s original, flagship team shaping up for the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) this May.
“When we started (tryouts for) the NPSL team, we ended up having so much interest that we had too many good players on hand,” Melican explained. “We weren’t going to turn people away so we decided ‘Hey, let’s have a reserve team.’ So we entered the MSSL, one of the best men’s leagues in Massachusetts.
“Then, of course, we ended up having even more players so we entered the BSSL. And here we are with three teams under the one banner that is Lowell United with the intention of bringing on a women’s team next year and a youth organization this fall.”
The product of lengthy planning and love of the game, Greater Lowell United FC (not to be confused with Lowell United SC, who also play in the MSSL) was founded by both Melican and Lowell businessman Manny Andrade after the two met and agreed to build on the soccer-loving cultures found in northeast Massachusetts.
“Support has been huge,” Melican pointed out. “Before we had fully initiated marketing, our Facebook and Twitter numbers shot up. We started placing stickers all over Lowell and soon, people started coming up to us all of the time saying ‘I just heard about the club’ it’s been fantastic.”
Making the drive south down I-495, a dozen Greater Lowell scarves were present for the Taunton game as the team kicked off a club-wide winning streak on field #13.
Soon after their debut, the MSSL side went on to beat the Boston Ethiopians 8-1 the following week while the BSSL team won their own 3-1 inaugural match against the OHP Gunners. The BSSL team continued their winning ways by beating AC Boston 4-1 a week later before the MSSL side snapped the streak with the franchise’s first ever loss to Celtic FC (0-1).
“We want to be successful in every league we’ve entered in, and win as many competitions as possible,” Melican said. “We have the MSSL and BSSL cups to aim for as we prepare to place as high as possible on the NPSL table.
“The sooner we’re successful on the field with all teams, the sooner we’ll have more people in seats, and the sooner we’ll have a professional women’s team as well as a higher professional men’s team.”
Playing in the NPSL’s North Atlantic Conference, the Green Dragons will be facing a spectrum of competition. From the Seacoast United Phantoms and Mariners (both operated by Seacoast United Soccer Club) to the revitalized Rhode Island Reds to league veterans like the New York Athletic Club or historic Brooklyn Italians (founded in 1949), GLUFC will also be facing the New York Red Bulls’ own NPSL team who’re currently making a U.S. Open Cup run along with Brooklyn.
With entrenched competition and a table often dominated by the New York teams, GLUFC faces an uphill battle that’ll last the season’s twelve regular season games. But as Melican explains, among the organizational factors, it’s the grassroots dedication that the NPSL fosters that led him, Andrade, and the front office to enter the league.
“I would say the passion of the teams and of the fans (played a role),” Melican said. “I understand the United Soccer Leagues and what they offer; we were even close to joining the PDL. But in the NPSL, the operation itself appears more owner friendly, meaning everybody in the league has a vote whereas in the PDL, things more or less trickle down from the league ownership.
“The NPSL’s more user-friendly for team owners and looking at teams like Detroit City FC or Chattanooga FC; the culture’s outrageous, and that’s the kind of atmosphere we want.”
Time will tell whether GLUFC can garner the local support that Detroit City and Chattanooga boast. But you can bet that Melican & Co. will be banking on it when the club makes its NPSL debut against the Brooklyn Italians at Cawley Stadium on May 10.