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Last week, it was oblige the author. This week, there’s another new series to introduce called smlwld stans!
smlwld stans is our way of following the on-field action in men’s soccer, with a focus on the clubs we stan in the leagues being covered. You can expect a new smlwld stans post every two weeks going forward!
For the foreseeable future, the main competition to be covered in smlwld stans is the NISA Independent Cup.
The competition is divided into four regions with four clubs each (excluding the Great Lakes, which has just three). Each region has a different way of determining a champion, so here’s a brief summary of each:
The Central Plains region will feature two pairings within the four-team group. Mansfield Revolution is paired with Lone Star Republic while Louisiana Krewe match up against Gaffa FC. Presumably, this move is made to limit travel within the group stage, as each side will only play against its paired team.
For example, Gaffa won’t play Mansfield or Lone Star. Instead, they’ll just play a two-leg tie against Krewe for the group stage, and the winner of each aggregate score will advance to the final for the region!
In the Great Lakes region, FC Buffalo, Cleveland SC, and Detroit City FC will participate in a round robin-style tournament. Each club plays the other once, and the winner of the standings is the outright champion as opposed to a knockout final.
The biggest difference for the Mid-Atlantic region is that Maryland Bobcats will be hosting the entire tournament. Each of the four clubs plays the other three once, and like the Great Lakes, there is no playoff format. The winner of the standings is the sole champion!
Finally, the Southeast region is the most typical and has little to no quirks. The four clubs involved will play each other once, and the top two clubs in the standings will advance to a one-leg final match to determine a champion. The one oddity is that match venues will not necessarily coincide with home and away teams. Three different venues will be used, though the most heavily utilized is Finley Stadium, the home ground of Chattanooga FC, and the final (as well as the 3rd place match) will be held there.
who we stan
There are lots of clubs we could have chosen to stan in each group, but we limited ourselves to one per region. Here are our reasonings:
Central Plains – We really like Lone Star Republic and their snarky nature, but we had to go with Group C fam from the Lower League eCup in Louisiana Krewe FC. Krewe are representing the GCPL alongside Gaffa FC, while LSR and Mansfield Revolution bear the UPSL standard.
Great Lakes – This was a really tough choice. FC Buffalo of NPSL has been fantastic of late, coming out with an excellent promotional jersey recently and just generally proving themselves a club of the community. Then there’s Detroit City, the national example for what a grassroots club can be. But we had to go with Cleveland SC here, partially because of our newfound connection to them through Offside Marketing and partially because they’re one of the most underrated grassroots clubs in the US.
Mid-Atlantic – Lots of on-field quality in this group, as burgeoning New York rivals New Amsterdam FC and New York Cosmos are professional sides in every sense of the word. Their amateur opponents aren’t pushovers, either, as FC Baltimore Christos has seen a lot of success at the NPSL level. We’re not going with any of those great sides to stan, though, and instead opt for our good friends at Maryland Bobcats FC. They’re reigning UPSL national champs, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fare against some of the highest quality competition in America.
Southeast – smallworld has love for all these teams in some capacity, so this is another tough one. Despite what I assume will be TriSocPod’s objections given their Carolinas bias, Soda City of the UPSL is the first elimination. Nothing against them, but they’re in a fantastic group of clubs. That means we have to choose who to stan between Chattanooga FC, one of the best grassroots clubs ever, and two Georgia clubs. Technically, smallworld’s two home bases are both closer to CFC than the two Peach State sides, but we still have to prove our Georgia pride by narrowing it down to Georgia Revolution and Savannah Clovers. The Clovers are a cool club to be sure, but our prior connection with the Revs and their metro Atlanta location makes them feel closest to home. They’re also doing fantastic things from the youth level all the way up to their NPSL side, so even in a great group of teams, the Revs feel like a no-brainer.
Now that we know who smallworld is going to stan in the competition, though, we need a compelling argument for each of them as to why they’ll win.
For that, I spoke with the parties most likely to believe in them: themselves!
Joan Oliva, the head coach of Louisiana Krewe, has what could be considered one of the most evenly-matched groupings on his hands. He spoke specifically about the club they’ll be facing in their group tie, Gaffa FC.
Gaffa is a really good opponent. They’re from the same league as us, they won the GCPL in 2017.Joan Oliva, head coach of LA Krewe
When asked about which players on his squad will be key to success, he mentioned quite a few:
Fulini, our center midfielder, is our maestro. Ricky Caliman is our reference in the final 3rd, Henrique Pimpao is our goal scorer, and Munir is our offensive left back. All of them are really good players, plus Alfi, a striker, who played pro in several countries after playing for FC Barcelona u19.Joan Oliva
That sure sounds like a serious talent pool, and a deep one as well. I’m thinking Krewe could have the attacking juice to go all the way in the Central Plains, and that’s not just wishful thinking.
Meanwhile, Cleveland SC are in the smallest group, but the one with perhaps the single highest-quality team, Detroit City FC. They’re early on in the roster selection process, according to club president Samuel Seibert, but they’ve already locked up a few familiar faces.
Fan favorites and mainstays such as Mikey Derezic, Marijo Musa, Coletun Long, and Chris Cvecko have already committed. There will also be new faces but very talented ones that will make us even stronger and deeper.Samuel Seibert, President of Cleveland SC
According to Seibert, the club started training for the first time less than a week ago, and he fully understands the tough task in front of his club.
We expect a very strong side in Detroit and a very hungry side in Buffalo. It’s not ideal to match up against such strong sides without previous tune ups but all sides are familiar with each other and everyone is dealing with an even playing field. It will be tough, interesting, and must watch TV for all fans of the sport.Samuel Seibert
I think that’s an excellent way to summarize the entire tournament. It’ll certainly have my attention and should be high-quality soccer for all who watch.
That’ll certainly apply to the Mid-Atlantic region as well, where Maryland Bobcats aren’t just competing against some of the best independent talent in America, they’re hosting all the action themselves!
Evan Raimist, the GM for the Bobcats, is a prior friend of smallworld and hinted at this opportunity a while back in a SmallWorld Soccer Report podcast episode. He was quick to mention how excited he was simply for this opportunity.
As a club, we are honored to be asked to play in the first year of this Cup with this great group of clubs. We’re excited to put our squad up against some of the best on the East Coast, and look forward to bringing such high level soccer to Maryland.Evan Raimist, General Manager of Maryland Bobcats FC (and smallworld certified cool person)
Evan seems optimistic about his squad’s chances, but much like Cleveland SC’s case, he also knows that the lack of prior training against professional opposition will be a tall order.
You can expect the same level of hungry, confident play that you’ve come to know and love about our team. We’ve recently started training again (now that we’re able) so getting guys up to speed is going to be priority one.Evan Raimist
Evan was also very high on the overall depth of the squad, but I coerced a few names in particular out of him as far as game-changing players who will have to show up:
If I had to narrow it down, I’d have to say Elton Joe, a forward who had 2 goals in the UPSL National Final, Kay Banjo, and our captain, Willy Kapawa. All 3 guys bring experience and work rate and professionalism both on and off the field.Evan Raimist
I’m definitely excited to see what those three players bring in such a big moment for the Bobcats, and hopefully they spur their team on to a successful result.
Finally, there’s the beloved Revs, representing the state I love. Alec Morrison, another former podcast guest, got me excited for the club’s chances.
We’re very excited to be playing in the Independent Cup. I think our team will surprise people.Alec Morrison, Georgia Revolution
He wasn’t short on examples when it comes to players who could be impactful:
We’ll be fielding a strong team made up of the best local talent. Bokie Yeaney, Ryan King, and George Rodriguez are all exciting players that come to mind.Alec Morrison
They’re certainly one of the best clubs in the country at utilizing the local talent, and McDonough is full of it! I wouldn’t be shocked to see them hang with the likes of Chattanooga FC.
Each team in the tournament will be strong, but we’ll be prepared for that challenge.Alec Morrison
If Alec is confident, so am I! I’m ready to see the Revs represent Georgia with a victory.
One thing to note that won’t be a feature in most smlwld stans posts but still feels relevant here is the moral debate over returning to play during the COVID-19 pandemic.
My last two podcast guests are a great example of the differing opinions of people within the lower league soccer community. Christian Franek of Palm Beach Breakers had a friendly match lined up the day after our recording, while Dave Galas of Lane United FC felt that any return to play was not the choice he would have made, including this tournament from NISA.
I got a few comments regarding this as well, and I’d like to share the snippets that stood out to me most for whoever would like to see them:
The safety of the players and staff is of course most important, so making sure we could play this tournament safely was the priority.Evan Raimist, Maryland Bobcats
This NISA Independent Cup is a nice breeze of fresh air for all of us. Now we have the opportunity to go back at fields and do what we love, to practice this sport… that’s why we are here.Joan Oliva, Louisiana Krewe
Inter-league play, something many fans have yearned for, is a welcomed arrangement for us. Yes there is concern about COVID-19, however, there is also concern about our communities being able to have something to be thankful for.Samuel Seibert, Cleveland SC
It’ll be a great chance for our players to be seen on the national stage.Alec Morrison, Georgia Revolution
The simple fact of celebrating a soccer game is the real win for all of us.Joan Oliva, Louisiana Krewe
We can’t wait to hit the pitch and get our supporters, the City of Cleveland, a proud team representing our proud city again.Samuel Seibert, Cleveland SC
The league (NISA) has done a great job on return-to-play protocols and making sure that everyone knows and understands what the rules and procedures are.Evan Raimist, Maryland Bobcats
If numbers spike in Maryland and in Montgomery County, ourselves and the league have made it clear that we’ll do what is best for the health and safety of the players and staff vs trying to squeeze the games in.Evan Raimist, Maryland Bobcats
With all these quotes being considered, there has clearly been a plethora of forethought involved in the planning of this event, as there should be. The debate is still on the table, but what shouldn’t be up for debate is the heart of these clubs and people to do right by their supporters, their players, their communities, and ultimately, themselves.
I’ll certainly be glad to see them on the pitch again, especially given that all matches will be live streamed through NISA. The link for live streaming is here, which will hopefully make the process for watching these matches streamlined.
Now you know who smlwld stans: LA Krewe, Cleveland SC, Maryland Bobcats, and GA Revolution have all our support! Make sure to support them as well on socials and by rooting them on in the cup!
Support local soccer, unify those around you, and *seek out diversity!*