ELP Brands Acquires United Premier Soccer League With Vision to Play a Vital Role in American Soccer
ELP Brands Boasts Partners With Thirty Years of Expertise in the Game of Soccer, Finance Industry, Sports & Entertainment
In 2011, Leonel Lopez, a Mexican semi-pro soccer player, formed a new local soccer league in Orange County, CA. The United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) is now the largest adult league in America acquired by ELP Brands. Rapid growth has brought over 300 teams and a presence in 32 states across America.
The league now sits just below the professional tiers of MLS, USL, and NISA, acting as a pro-development platform for players, coaches, and team owners.
UPSL has crashed through many barriers, but perhaps the most important is that it is the first national men’s soccer league to implement a promotion/relegation system for its member clubs.
The UPSL’s 10,000 players have a diversity of origins, with over 40 countries represented. Spread across all corners of the USA, the UPSL helps to bring communities together in support of their local club in towns like Lakeland (FL), Savannah (GA), and Santa Barbara (CA).
The current UPSL National Champions, Maryland Bobcats from Montgomery County (MD), are a testament to the league’s diversity.
UPSL’s National Champions only a minority-owned club, and their roster includes players from ten different African nations.
“This past nine years building the league has come with its successes and challenges,” said Lopez. “I’m proud and humbled that UPSL has become a national league attracting investors like ELP Brands.”
The UPSL was formed in 2011 and UPSL teams are individually owned and operated. UPSL teams are eligible to participate in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Qualifying Rounds through the league’s affiliation with the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) and the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA).
“I want to personally thank Graham Walsh and Luin Frazier for seeing the vision of the UPSL and we will continue to see the growth of UPSL serving its purpose in the American soccer scene,” said Lopez.
“The UPSL is important in American soccer with its accessibility, diversity, and inclusiveness, but the journey is just getting started.”Graham Walsh, founder, and CEO, ELP Brands
“Investing in the UPSL is an exciting prospect for us,” said Graham Walsh, ELP Brands founder, and CEO who has a penchant for uncovering investment opportunities and acquiring firms with a future. Walsh and ELP’s Chief Operating Officer Luin Frazier together have 30 years of experience in finance, investments, sports, and entertainment licensing. In 2019, ELP acquired JT Racing USA, the iconic motocross and BMX brand with 50 years of heritage.
“UPSL’s organic growth is eye-catching and the importance of the lower leagues to development is under-appreciated in this country. We hope to bring more exposure to the players, the teams, the coaches. We also look forward to helping integrate the Hispanic, African, and Caribbean based clubs into the national structure and forming close ties with the U.S. Soccer Federation,” said Walsh.
“Our goal is to make an impact. In Europe and South America, the lower leagues form part of the game’s fabric, and each local club can tie a community together. USA deserves this.”Graham Walsh, Founder and CEO, ELP Brand
With a passion since childhood for the beautiful game, Walsh played on Manchester United’s B squad as a teenager and represented his country at England Schools U18 level. He went on to play soccer at Cambridge University – captaining the varsity team in the victory over staunch rivals Oxford University, back in 1984.
“In a country this size, there is huge demand and great potential,” said Walsh. “We provide access to playing time and a range of ideas which the professional game here is not deep enough to offer.”
“The clubs feed players and coaches, referees, and owners into the professional game, and this is now happening in America through the UPSL,” said Walsh who believes there are players with great talent playing in the UPSL.
“We will continue to work with Yan and Leo to further cement UPSL’s very important role in American soccer,” said Luin Frazier. “Our league is incredibly diverse with athletes of all races and nationalities, and we will continue to provide a platform where players can work on their game as they pursue a dream of playing professionally.”
To Walsh, the UPSL is a developmental league with players similar to Alexi Lalas and Jamie Vardy just waiting to be discovered. “Our job is to attract more attention to them and to strengthen the platform that UPSL founder Lionel and UPSL Commissioner Yan Skwara have built.”
“It is truly is a milestone transaction for the league,” said Skwara. “I’m honored that ELP moved forward to acquire a controlling interest in the UPSL, as the timing was right for both sides.”
“Eight years ago, the UPSL was a small fledgling regional league based out of LA and it has grown to a national league with an expansive footprint with over 300 teams in eight conferences,” said Skwara. “Today the UPSL is the top pro-development soccer league in America. It’s been a tremendous amount of work — with a lot of great soccer people working together to achieve this growth, and I think now is the moment for the UPSL to shine and advance to the next level. While I consistently say the game in America will continue to grow, what the game really needs now is change. ELP’s timing is perfect and with our framework, the sky’s the limit.”
“We are very grateful to ELP, Graham, and Luin for their investment in the league and look forward to working together for many years to come,” said Skwara.
In addition to UPSL serving as a stepping stone for many athletes looking to turn pro, former U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) players have also found a home in the UPSL, with several former pros, including U.S. Player of the Decade (1990) Eric Wynalda and 1986 U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year Paul Caligiuri serving as coaches.
Caligiuri scored the goal that qualified the USA for the FIFA World Cup, ending 40 years of our country’s inability to compete on this world stage and spurring decades of unprecedented U.S. soccer growth. Both Wynalda and Caligiuri are in the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
“I am proud to be affiliated with UPSL, which provides high-level competition year-round,” said Caligiuri who has also served as Technical Director of the UPSL. “While the UPSL was not around when I was a player, it has greatly benefitted me as a coach of the Orange County FC,” said Caligiuri. “In my 40 plus history in the game of soccer, I have never seen a league that provides a better platform for player development, offering multiple opportunities for players who want to take that next step in their career.”
UPSL recently announced that 2020 Spring Season would start in a condensed format kicking off Saturday, June 20, and incorporating only the states, counties, and municipalities where organized soccer is allowed. Play will hopefully be permitted in Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and South Carolina with additional states potentially able to join.
Updated: 11:18 AM (PST) – Correction: Maryland Bobcats were originally listed as from (ME) when they are from (MD).