This post is sponsored by Offside Marketing!
It’s also eligible for the gigantic grassroots grammar challenge, and to date, no one has been able to find a mistake…
Recently, the Steel City Super Cup caught the attention of smallworld and many others interested in amateur soccer. There were plenty of storylines to digest, but one of them was the unknown club from West Virginia that poked its head out of obscurity: Appalachia FC 1863.
Given that the author can trace some family lineage back to West Virginia, and given smallworld’s view that it’s a heavily underrepresented state for quality lower-league soccer right now, AFC 63’s presence was certainly an eye-catcher with its classic WV colors and state outline in the crest.
Unfortunately, further information on the club was nearly impossible to gather. That is, until the club started a Twitter page and connected with smallworld there.
Drew Lytton was kind enough to give me some added information about the club, and it feels like one of the more underrated amateur soccer stories in the country of late.
Obviously, what sticks out on the page from AFC 63 is their location. West Virginia isn’t exactly a typical location for a soccer club, and it’s definitely a good thing to see clubs in those locations. However, despite a lack of attention and visibility, it’s actually a gem of a location for a lower-league club, as Rob, a founding member of the club, explained:
We are located in the northern part of West Virginia, with the majority of our players pooling from Morgantown, WV and Clarksburg, WV. We chose this area as it is home to the majority of our player pool and is at the heart of an ever growing soccer community. Furthermore, the presence of West Virginia University, vibrant towns, proximity to great college programs and large cities like Pittsburgh, PA and Washington, DC make this part of the state a vibrant place to begin our journey as a club.Rob Breton, AFC 63 founding member
It feels like just yesterday I was speaking to Motorik FC‘s Kenneth Tebo on smallworld’s podcast about the potential of that particular area of West Virginia to host a quality lower-league side. We’re seeing that become a reality sooner than I imagined!
Drew touched on all the same reasons I thought of Morgantown as an especially exciting market. The buzz of the university is there, the proximity to large towns is there, and the representation of an entire state that’s lacking soccer is a huge opportunity, too. There’s much to like about where AFC is setting up shop.
Of course, anyone who’s been following lower-league soccer in the US for any length of time will know that location in itself isn’t sufficient for success or even survival. The likes of Fresno, CA, Fort Lauderdale, FL, and Lansing, MI are all cities with cool fanbases in great soccer towns that were let down by poor management.
The logical next question is whether AFC 63 has a culture that’s conducive to using the prime location for long-term growth and development of players and the community. From Drew’s comments, I’m convinced that the answer is a resounding yes.
We are a team coming from various backgrounds, cultures, etc. who have a passion and enthusiasm for soccer that reaches far beyond fandom. We are building on the state’s great foundation of local youth clubs and great college programs (D1, D2, D3, NAIA) who have a rich history of national championships, conference championships, and generally being contenders on the national stage. From this platform, we are building a path for players to continue playing high-level competitive soccer in West Virginia even after their college career ends.Drew Lytton
It’s got the diversity of a team that’s providing truly equal opportunity to its community members. It’s got the understanding of its soccer history and the desire to build on it rather than tear it down. Most important, this club has the ultimate and single motivation of supporting the players that come through AFC 63.
AFC 63 is being driven by individuals and partnerships that have been pushing soccer forward in our community for over 17 years.Raul Ovalle, head coach of AFC 63
We wanted to create a place where players could continue to grow beyond their college years and a place where kids could aspire to continue to play even if they didn’t choose the traditional collegiate student-athlete route. A majority of our team consists of current college students who don’t play for any universities but are capable of competing at a high level.Rob Breton
All the talk and potential is great, but at some point, it’s always nice to have the on-field chops to back up the off-field efforts. Turns out, AFC has a lot of quality in their team right from the off!
We have a great group of players who play pick-up soccer together year-round. By combining the best players from our local league we were able to create a well rounded group who have the same ambition to compete and represent the state to our best abilities.Drew, aka Drewberry in close circles (if it’s not true it should be)
They’re not looking to keep that talent to themselves, either.
[In the] short term, we want to compete for the Werner Fricker Cup, Open Cup, and regional tournaments in the surrounding areas like the Steel City Super Cup. Long term goals are to turn this organization into a NPSL or UPSL team that allows us to train and play all year together. We really believe the sky’s the limit for this group and this organization.Rob Breton
Again, this is exactly the type of ambition I was hoping to see out of a West Virginia side. Morgantown seems well suited for a quality club in either of those leagues, so it’s more than exciting to hear that’s potentially in the future plans of Appalachia.
And speaking of the Steel City Super Cup, the club hasn’t had long to wait to get a taste of that tournament! They got to participate alongside some of the northeast US’ best amateur talent, and did more than just participate in the end.
It was a solid performance in our first tournament as a team. We played some great competition and held our own in each match, even feeling that we had the opportunities and run of play to go on and win a couple of matches. In the end though, a draw in each match was probably what we deserved in this tournament. We expect more as players – which is exactly what we want – not being ok with just showing up, but expecting to win and earn results. We had some great chances to win games and put ourselves through to the semi-finals, but this is just the start of something great.Drew, sounding like a pretty good Spurs manager with all these draws
It does indeed feel like the start of something great from this entire organization, and from all indications, smallworld isn’t alone in feeling that way.
Drew is quick to mention that the lower-league soccer community has been a welcoming one:
It has been a warm welcome to say the least. We’ve received incredible support – not just locally, but from people and clubs throughout the country’s amateur/semi-professional community that want to see a team represent our home state and to do so with true WV spirit – blue-collar grit, determination, pride, etc. while also demonstrating the talent that lies hidden in our hills.Drew
Not only is “hidden in our hills” a great alliteration, but it’s also a strikingly true statement. Local talent has been hidden in West Virginia for a very long time, but thanks to Appalachia, it may not be that way for much longer.
Stay weird and support local soccer!