MIAMI (23 July 2021) —
A group in Portland, Maine is aiming to bring a USL team to the city. The team would be contingent on finding a suitable place to play its home games. The group is headed up by Gabe Hoffman-Johnson, managing director and president of Portland sports and marketing agency Topsail Sports & Entertainment. Hoffman-Johnson has been having conversations with the city about building a new minor-league stadium. He and his fellow investors are reported to have raised $500,000 thus far.
If awarded, Portland would join a growing group of teams in New England. Cities like Manchester, NH and Burlington, VT have been looked at by USL as prospective League One locations. Hartford Athletic has been a success playing in the USL Championship, and Pawtucket, RI, in the Providence metro area, has an approved stadium deal in downtown Pawtucket that is part of a riverfront urban revilalization plan that will be home for a team in the Championship. Meanwhile the Revolution currently have a team in USL One, though the future of so-called MLS II teams in USL is in doubt. Beyond USL, there are other rising lower league clubs in New England as well, such as Providence City FC.
Having a viable stadium is key for the USL. “That remains the last major hurdle to figure out before moving forward,” according to Hoffman-Johnson. The group goes by the name of “USL to Portland”.
In recent developments, a Portland (ME) City Council committee declined to approve a plan for a proposed USL League One stadium, instead asking for more information on exactly what the owners have in mind for renovations and a location.
The group’s website, Pro Portland Original, describes the effort as “a grassroots and community-led movement to bring a USL League One professional soccer franchise to the City of Portland, State of Maine, and Northern New England.”
USL to Portland presented two stadium options to the City Council; one would upgrade an existing field on Preble Street (hosting 5,000 fans) to a pro stadium, while the other would upgrade existing Fitzpatrick Stadium with a seating capacity of 7,000. In both cases the stadium upgrades would be privately financed to the tune of $8-$12 million.
The USL investors were seeking guidance from the city’s Housing and Community Development Committee for direction, but the committee declined to provide it.
“I want to be clear that this committee has made zero decisions. It would not be accurate to say that we’ve chosen one location over another. We need more details on both sites before we can proceed in any form,” said Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, chairman of the committee.
Once the committee has received more details it will weigh its choices and make a recommendation to the nine-member City Council, which has the final authority over where a soccer stadium would be located. Approval from the United Soccer League designating Portland as an expansion market is contingent on finding a permanent stadium, with the team’s inaugural season beginning as soon as March 2023.
“After an exhaustive search around Greater Portland, we feel confident that either one of these locations would be successful,” Hoffman-Johnson told the council committee. “Our number one goal is to unite and build a vibrant community through soccer that is inclusive to all.”
The two proposed site both have some complications. The Preble Street site presents a larger hurdle, as the land is part of the city’s Land Bank and might require a super-majority vote of the City Council for usage, meaning eight of nine votes, in order for that site to be approved. Over at Fitzpatrick Stadium, a new school track facility would need to replace the current one. Complications notwithstanding, committee members expressed enthusiasm about bringing USL League One to Portland.
Hoffman-Johnson believes a soccer club would emulate the city’s personality and target a younger demographic. Given the fans’ support for other teams and the reputations of locals coming together as a community, expect he believes soccer culture is a perfect fit for Portland.
No name has been chosen and given the mission of uniting the community, we can expect fan input if a team is awarded. At RussoSoccer, we can’t help but think strong consideration should be given to incorporating the word ‘Downeast’ into the name. Downeast Football Club is a name that would be unique to a team from Maine.