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Greenville is now home to two soccer franchises.

Local entrepreneur Joe Erwin, of Erwin-Penland, along with the Erwin Creates ownership group, has announced the creation of a team to compete in the United Soccer League's new Division III League, starting in March 2019.

Erwin said the decision to jump in with the USL came down to a few key things.

"This region is more than ready to support professional soccer at this level. We also know it will enhance the quality of life, create jobs and build a platform for entertainment and enhance recreational and educational experiences," he said.

"We know sports have a way of bringing us together ... and this sport uniquely embraces boys and girls, people of all cultures, of all ages. This is the ultimate diverse-rich world game, and the world game belongs in a world-class community."

Two other clubs, South Georgia Tormenta FC and FC Tucson, have also been announced. USL is sanctioned as a Division II professional league by U.S. Soccer, while Major League Soccer is considered Division I.

These two divisions and the USL Division III are the only professional teams recognized by U.S. Soccer and FIFA in the country.

Erwin is listed as the chairman of Greenville Pro Soccer, while his son Doug is vice chairman and chief brand officer. Chris Lewis was announced as president of Greenville Pro Soccer.

"It is not just a game, it kb];wis an important contributor to the growth and quality of life (in Greenville)," Erwin said.

Tuesday's news caps a nearly yearlong negotiation, dating back to April 2017, between Greenville and USL officials.

"Today we have truly come full circle," Greenville Chamber president and CEO Carlos Phillips said. "This initiative that will add yet another log onto Greenville's, and the Upstate's fiery economy."

The Greenville team's name, colors and logo will be announced later this year, along with a permanent home field.

Steven Short, vice president of USL Division III, said Greenville was the measuring stick used when the USL interviewed other prospective cities.

"Every city we visited we said they were close to Greenville. We used Greenville as a bar," he said. "It was not just the scenery, the Southern hospitality or the diverse selection of entertainment.

"There is a fanatic sports culture you can see with the collegiate and pro sports athletics. There is also a strong youth soccer team, along with 11 collegiate programs in the vicinity."

Tuesday's announcement marks the second men's soccer team to call Greenville home.

In November 2017, a group led by former Furman University player Marco Carrizales announced it had formed Greenville FC, an expansion team for the National Premier Soccer League. Greenville FC begins its inaugural season May 4 and will play home games at Furman's Stone Soccer Stadium.

Mike Stewart and Ryan Nowland, self-described soccer superfans, said Tuesday's announcement was exciting.

"A bunch of us started a petition which would hopefully lead to this day," Stewart said. "We know the benefits they spoke of today are fact, and Greenville will get to experience that."

Both are members of the American Outlaws Greenville chapter, a group that regularly gets together to watch soccer. It is the 93rd chapter in the nation and third in the state.

"We are a U.S. Soccer supporters group. We are all fans of different teams. We just support soccer in general," Nowland said.

Short said the fervent local support of soccer from AO Greenville helped.

"We spent time at Gringos, and I saw the petition with over 900 signatures on it," he said. "We expect them to be there when the season starts next March."

As far as having two teams now, Stewart said he believes the Upstate community can support both.

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March 14, 2018


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