PJ Harrison and Joe Sumner (yes, he’s the son of Gordon Sumner, aka Sting – get it out of your system now) are sitting backstage in a dressing room discussing football. Oblivious to the scantily clad women surrounding them, they’re discussing their home teams – Newcastle and Everton, respectively. This is their first meeting and they’ve immediately hit it off. Over the next series of nights, they meet at the same place, and discuss the game even more. At one point, someone broaches the idea of ownership, and both agree that it would be a great experience. Both live in LA, love the game, and want to provide something other than just the MLS experience. In that moment, City of Angels FC was born–at least conceptually.
First and foremost, PJ and Joe have a vision of what community-connected soccer looks and feels like. They speak highly of the way FC United of Manchester approach the game with a fan-based model, and they saw an opportunity to form a team that does so in the US. In the sprawling city of Los Angeles, there wasn’t much below MLS in the LA Galaxy, and the now defunct Chivas USA. For two years, while LAFC was created to fill the void, the lower divisions struggled. The Orange County Blues and LA Galaxy II – both USL (Division 3) teams, recently cracked more than 1000 in average attendance. By comparison, the LA Wolves (playing in the UPSL – Division 5) having just been founded in 2014, have seen significant growth. With so many teams looking to operate in the professional realm, there is an increasing void for community-based teams in the Los Angeles area, where players can highlight their skills, or just have fun. That is the stated goal of the new ownership group of City of Angels FC – to be a team for the guys who don’t have academy pedigrees, agents or even the $200 most clubs are charging for trialists.
On December 19th, the NPSL announced via Twitter that City of Angels FC would be granted an expansion slot for the 2017 season. Beyond that, though, there are many more things still in the process of being worked out. Venues abound in LA, with many high school stadiums and public parks exceeding in quality what can be found on active 3rd and 4th division clubs in the UK. The question of location is an important one, and not something than can be rushed into last minute, so due diligence is an imperative. Too close to an existing fan base creates animosity and struggle to fill the stands. Too far away makes commuting impossible. Putting it in an urban center sounds nice, but that increases costs and deeply impacts the bottom line. Some places don’t permit alcohol sales and some don’t even have ways to charge admission, so navigating all the variables takes time and energy – and that’s well before a team even takes the field. Finding a name was difficult enough, with a glut of unimaginative and milquetoast monikers making their way into the American soccer landscape, so they needed something that translated into Spanish well and gave a true representation of their community. Having accomplished that, there is still a logo to create, kits to design, a coach to hire, and players to sign. Anyone who undertakes these efforts not only has to love the game, but love their city enough to know who to talk to and what to ask for. Joe and PJ are up to the challenge, but they do not expect do it alone.
There is something about LA that both of them love. Back home in England, despite the name and the wealth that accompanied his lineage, Joe found that stating an ambition was always met with some sort of criticism, or a questioning of desires; a sense of disapproval for being so bold in their lofty goals. Maybe it’s a cultural difference, but one of the things both have found since planting their roots in the Los Angeles area, is just how supportive people have been. There’s a sense of positivity from not just the community, but an embracing of their plans to elevate everyone involved. Humility is required. Building a family, a coalition is the most effective way to get people to buy in, fans and staff included. “If you come here trying to become a star, it can be soul destroying,” PJ remarked. Their ambition is that this will become a community effort, not just the two investors. Unlike other expansion projects in the US soccer landscape, this is anything but a vanity project for the ennui-plagued 1% looking to build a taxpayer funded testament to wealth.
Yes, some of the rumors were true – at one point PJ and Joe looked at other, professional leagues, but decided to back away to pursue a different approach. It wasn’t until speaking with the NPSL that they decided it was the direction they needed to head, and the primary reason was simple – they wanted to put every dollar into the team, not a massive expansion fee. This is part of their philosophy towards soccer in the US – make the game and the team approachable for fans and players alike. If you could not afford college tuition, didn’t get the scholarship, or have the tens of thousands of dollars in academy fees, you should have the same opportunity to play. Even those who had a shot early on, but didn’t mature at the same pace or time as everyone else, still have a place under the guidance of Joe and PJ. Given the right attitude and talent, City of Angels FC is promising to give you the chance to be part of the club. That’s their vision, and as they see it, not very different from the upper division leagues – ultimately, they want to support soccer in the US.