Soccer fans haven’t experienced this kind of excitement since fútbol legend Pelé visited Greenville in ’95 to dedicate a field at Furman University. On March 29, Greenville Triumph will take to the pitch in its first game with USL League One. This new division, sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation, is bringing professional soccer to 10 cities across North America in 2019.
“This is a game that has already impacted a lot of people in some way, shape, or form,” reveals Triumph vice-chairman Doug Erwin. “Soccer has touched lives, whether it’s folks who played as youth, or parents who are at CESA every weekend watching their kids play. The Upstate is hungry for soccer, and this will be the first time they can see a professional team play right here in town.”
Marque Coach // In the midfield during his playing days, John Harkes frequently found himself creating patterns for the offense. Today, as Triumph’s first head coach, he does the same from the sidelines, boldly leading the charge for Greenville’s new team and its roster of young men. He thrives on the pressure. “I’m very excited we’re finally getting to a point where all of our hard work will come to fruition,” he shares. “I love growing the game. To start a club from scratch is a great, great challenge. I love creating opportunities for players, creating opportunities for coaches, and for my staff. We want to build this for the community.”
The 51-year-old has tasted victory at every level of the sport. The first-generation immigrant of Scottish parents grew up playing during the pioneering days of U.S. soccer, in Kearny, New Jersey. Known in the states as the “cradle of soccer,” Kearny pumped out three World Cup players in the ’90s, including Harkes. “I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of a lot of great success stories, since first playing at the age of four,” he says reminiscing. “I’ve been able to play at high levels, and it’s the most incredible, exhilarating experience that you can imagine.”
His peak in cleats was across the pond, where he was the first American to play in the English Premier League and score at Wembley Stadium. “Those are the moments of the game that you never forget,” the all-star reflects. “I’ve had many where I’ve represented my country at the World Cup, I’ve represented my country at the Olympics, and I take a lot of pride in that. But to play for a professional club and represent your country at the pro level in England was absolutely mind-boggling. It was just such a thrill. It really was.”
The hall of famer hopes to build upon his experience to shepherd Triumph to the same caliber of competition. “I’m looking to create opportunities for the guys to play in championships, to win leagues. It’s a process and it’s going to take time both on and off the field. I’m totally believing in the team, in Greenville, and this ownership group. We all share the same vision.”
The Founding Roster // When the first whistle blows, eleven men will enter battle wearing a clean green crest featuring blue-on-blue Carolina foothills. “Fans can expect an exciting, creative team with a great work ethic that takes a lot of pride in putting on the Greenville Triumph jersey,” explains Coach Harkes. “These are players who will approach the field with high respect and have a great understanding of what it takes to win games.”
Although Greenville is now home, the men hail from near and far, California to England, and every point in between. Carlos Gomez is one of the European members of the squad, coming from Algete, Spain. “I’ve been waiting for this chance all my life,” the midfielder announces excitedly. “It’s a dream come true! Being a professional soccer player has been my dream since I was a child.”
“These are players who will approach the field with high respect and have a great understanding of what it takes to win games.”
—Coach John Harkes
Although Triumph can roster as many as 26, Harkes wants to keep numbers down, so local players can train with the team. “This allows us to look at men transitioning out of college,” admits the brains behind the brawn. “It’s a good platform for them to show what they can do, and for us to get to know them better.” The line-up already includes a few local college standouts, including Clemson’s Paul Clowes and Limestone’s Dominic Boland. Other athletes are returning to their roots, like Christ Church alum, Cole Seiler. “The proximity to my home was a major contributing factor as to why I chose Triumph,” confesses the Anderson native, who’s defended for the Georgetown Hoyas, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Sacramento Republic.
The Assist // Behind every winning team is a management powerhouse that moves as smoothly as a scoring set piece. Triumph’s ownership group, Erwin Creates, has not only racked up wins across several industries, its individuals all have soccer roots. Marketer, and group founder, Joe Erwin played for Eastside High’s inaugural soccer team in the ’70s. President Chris Lewis may have made a name for himself with the Swamp Rabbits, but soccer was the sporting love of his childhood in New York. Chief brand officer and vice-chairman Doug Erwin also took to the local turf as a young boy with St. Giles.
“We know the power of soccer, we’ve experienced it firsthand,” states Doug. “We love that it’s very inclusive, it carries a low barrier of entry playing at the youth level, both boys and girls can play, it crosses socio-economic boundaries. You don’t get all of that in many sports.” When USL League One officials met with Erwin Creates simply to explore the city, the Erwin family headed the ball back with a request to purchase the team. “We know how dynamic Greenville is,” shares Doug. “We thought this can be something that is great for the Upstate, a great community asset to bring people together and give them a common, shared interest. Something that can unite neighborhoods and people. We’re passionate about that. Soccer and sport just happen to be the vehicle to accomplish the goal.” A winning goal, before Triumph even dribbles down the field.
Greenville Triumph SC’s inaugural kick-off will take place this month on March 29, 7pm, against South Georgia Tormenta at Georgia Southern University. The first home game will be April 6, 7pm, against Lansing Ignite at Legacy Early College. For tickets, visit GreenvilleTriumph.com.