On August 30, 2019, a week before it was due, yours truly put out a blog post about lower-league soccer for a school assignment.
As I read it back and fought the urge to make various corrections, I imagined what it would be like to tell myself a year ago today about what smallworld is now.
The fact that it even still exists today, that people other than my mom are reading it, and that it’s now got a podcast, a women’s soccer section, and a Spanish-language section would have made me light up with excitement.
To be fair, they still do now.
So as we hit one full year of smallworld’s existence, I couldn’t help but take a moment to review all the clubs, leagues, and organizations that we’ve covered and pay tribute to the part they’ve played in smallworld’s growth.
how it all happened
The first couple of months looked like me creating random content and putting things out on my own. As a result, and unsurprisingly, not many people read any of it. But the plan I had hinged this whole blog on was still to come, and just over a month in, it finally panned out: the Club Feature.
I can’t be more proud of the club I first chose to reach out to.
Knowing nothing about the culture and none of the people within the lower-league community, I just began doing research and investigating who would be a) worth shouting out and showing real impact on their community and b) likely/willing to respond to my questions and have fans who’d read what I put out.
The first club I settled on was absolutely perfect, and that was the Crows of Minneapolis City SC. Led by Dan Hoedeman, they’re one of the best-known and appreciated amateur clubs in the US, and they were a dream to work with for a feature.
As I look back, Dan was the first person to show interest in what I was doing, and that meant a lot. I’ll never forget sending the Twitter DM I’d been planning and editing for hours and seeing his response:
Yeah, love that idea! How can we help you?
It was a simple promise, but one that he held to and that meant everything to me in that moment. It was validation that maybe my weird idea for a blog really would impact people and support good things that people were doing.
And it was a perfect club to highlight as well. I’d like to think I did them justice with what I wrote, and you can look back on it here if you haven’t read it, but it really is a club I’m proud to have chosen for a feature. In a lot of ways, I wouldn’t still be doing this if that first experiment with club features hadn’t gone so well and people hadn’t read it as much as they did.
From there, of course, more features were soon to follow. A month after Mpls City, I released a feature on Himmarshee FC, another club known by many in the community. Their fan-owned model is the envy of many across the country, and their story of building a club from scratch to fill a professional void is one that so many can empathize with or at least appreciate.
Derek Reese was super responsive and helpful, and by this point, I was coming across a lot of clubs whose communication levels were quite poor, so Derek’s interest and response time was a blessing.
More great clubs followed. Todd Carrigan of Ozark FC is one of the most underrated lower-league owners in the country, building something really unique in a cool location at Ozark. Black Bear FC, who I’d been eyeing since the beginning, and Reign FK rounded out the year on the club feature end.
Before and during all these features, smallworld slowly created a name for itself via Twitter, getting involved in conversations and learning more about the game at this level and the people that support it. Out of that journey came the SmallScale Arguments series, starting in September with a piece on Boston City’s qualms with the NPSL for allowing Valeo to expand into a similar market. I’ll always be thankful to those involved in that Twitter thread who became my first followers on Twitter.
More SmallScale Arguments ensued. I included a guest feature that was a bit off-topic but still interesting. And then, I hit a real gold mine: expansion club rankings. I started with an NPSL expansion ranking in November when lots of excitement was buzzing around this now-lost 2020 summer season. Tallahassee took the top spot in a group of 11 intriguing teams, and a certain 5th-placed team has recently risen high above the rest to become a world-class organization.
Then, I officially announced I’d be moving the operation to Costa Rica. I rolled out a new series and plans to go in-depth on the Costa Rican Liga Promerica that never truly materialized. That did, however, lead into the biggest decision that befell smallworld in 2019: what would happen when it wasn’t a school assignment anymore? My semester was coming to an end, and the blog was no longer an obligation.
During those few months, though, and ever more so since, it’s become a passion that I could never let go. This community has drawn me in and welcomed an outsider into the fold, and it’s a community I never want to leave. So, smallworld stayed past 2019 and was carried into a new year no one could have imagined.
And that turned out to be a pretty good decision, because the very next post that came out was a USL League Two version of the expansion rankings that did so well. And that post did even better than the NPSL one did. People quoted me, dissected my choices, argued their club’s case as to why they should have been higher. It was incredible on my end, and so rewarding to see the interaction it earned the clubs involved.
It also started my connection with great clubs like Oakland County FC and South Bend Lions, the former of which took the top spot in that post.
Soon after, I began releasing a series of posts about the ADASL, a league in my backyeard that impressed me instantly with their professionalism and responsiveness across the board. They were one of the first organizations to actually reach out and ask me if I’d write about them, and that was an especially flattering moment I won’t soon forget.
Bookending the year were some power rankings intended to predict the summer 2020 season (rip in the chat) for a couple of leagues, and they just built on the success of previous months.
I experimented with a few more types of posts in January, from a general lament of lower-league teams that folded or took a leave of absence to one more attempt at reviving the idea of Costa Rican soccer coverage. But nothing compared to what I put out on the final day of the month.
As a way to keep up the momentum that came from expansion rankings in NPSL and USL2, I came up with an ambitious plan: I was going to create an expansion post for every. single. expansion. team. for. 2020. When you include UPSL, both those aforementioned, and NISA, that’s a lot of clubs.
I got through them all, though, and the buzz that resulted from that article was well worth it. It blew previous numbers out of the water within hours and now stands at over 1,000 views. I’m super appreciative of everyone who read it, and especially the clubs that shared it and created the excitement.
It’s the one time that Chattanooga FC have paid smallworld any attention, and as much of a celebrity as that club is in our community, that was a really special moment for them to comment. That post was also the start of our connection with River Town FC (then River City SC) which has grown to be one of our closest.
From there, things continued to develop at smallworld. I got into some real controversy for the first time between Sporting SC and the Cosmopolitan Soccer League, bringing some issues between the two to light and actually doing a bit to disarm that situation. I happened across Ed Romero’s page as he ranted about some issues he had with the CSL, and he was very helpful in giving me information to create that post. The Cosmo League also gave their own comments, and it was a chance for both sides to make themselves heard.
Soon after, I had my first interaction of many with UWS, a women’s league that’s been a great organization to be connected with. The end of February saw the first Match Recap in smallworld’s history, more new waters for smallworld to navigate.
March brought the first Club Feature in smallworld’s home state of Georgia with USL League One side Tormenta FC, another club I count myself fortunate to be connected with. They’ve proven themselves a professional club on and off the pitch, and Bernadette O’Donnell has been instrumental in all my interactions with Tormenta.
Then, we started to hit a content wall. I came up with some bizarre crap to keep smallworld and the lower-league community going, and some of it actually stuck! I roped some non-soccer friends into a post, created a very short series called Weirdness of the Week (which is now a mainstay segment on the podcast), and did by far the weirdest thing smallworld’s ever been associated with, SmallWorld March Madness.
#SWMM was a bizarre event to say the least, and you can read all about what it was and how it went down here. That created a strong bond between smallworld and SWMM champions Motorik FC, one of our favorite amateur clubs ever.
So yeah, March was weird as a whole. April was also lacking content, but Joe Meyer stepped in and saved the entire lower-league community with the Lower League eCup.
The eCup included over a hundred clubs from around the country and pitted them in a FIFA 20 tournament. Even smallworld participated and made it to the playoffs, and we made friends with opponents such as Jacksonville Armada, Northshore United, Louisiana Krewe, Florida Tropics, and yes, even Lane (Lame) United FC, who beat us in the knockout stage. Every week of April, we put out a power rankings post for each and every group in the competition, and it was fun keeping up with all the teams.
The onset of summer brought the announcement of a podcast in tandem with the great people at GameOn: A Sports Podcast for Everyone. It also brought us new clubs to connect with and highlight in Steel FC and Bright Stars of Colorado, an exciting end to the eCup, and another attempt at SmallWorld Madness.
In June, we announced a truly special moment for smallworld when Offside Marketing agreed to become our first sponsor. Offside is an incredible organization and I’ve learned so much from that partnership.
The end of summer meant the end of an era, as smallworld moved to some new branding. We went rogue and started doing a lot of things in lowercase. All our tweets, titles, segments, and even our name is lowercase now. We also got a swanky new logo thanks to Calyx Design, another business we’re proud to be connected with.
New series made an appearance, including smlwld stans and oblige the author. We made a lot of big announcements, from starting our own podcast venture to challenging ourselves with a promotion (our grammar was impeccable, turns out!).
We brought up an important story of owner mismanagement at Charlotte Independence, we covered some clubs returning to play, and we even sponsored one such return in the form of the Steel City Super Cup!
Now, in this final month leading up to a year, we’ve met a new club we’re very excited about, covered one of the biggest transfers in recent women’s soccer history, and put out real power rankings in a real regular season for the first time (and somehow made the Michigan Stars ranked 1st).
All that to say, it’s been a truly special ride. While it’s fun and worthwhile to look back at all this year has brought, though, it won’t stop smallworld from looking forward. There’ll always be more lower-league content to produce and clubs/leagues/players to cover. Until all of America knows the beauty of lower league soccer done right, smallworld will keep spreading the message and doing it our way.
who to thank
So, to Minneapolis City, Himmarshee FC, Ozark FC, Black Bear FC, Reign FK, Boston City, Tallahassee SC, Oakland County, South Bend Lions, the ADASL, Chattanooga FC, River Town, Sporting SC, the Cosmo League, UWS, Tormenta FC, Motorik FC, the Lower League eCup, Jax Armada, Northshore, LA Krewe, Florida Tropics, Lane United, GameOn, Steel FC, Bright Stars SC, Offside Marketing, Calyx Design, NNK FC, Inter Detroit, Appalachia FC, Districtonia, and so many others who will go unmentioned (including all of my podcast guest hosts!), thank you on behalf of smallworld and myself personally. What a journey this first year has been, and I can’t wait to look back at year two and feel this same fullness in my heart at all this quirky little soccer blog has accomplished!
Stay weird and support local soccer!