Kenny Farrell on Growing the NPSL and What Needs To Change in American Soccer
Professional, determined and experienced, Kenny Farrell is now the leading man at the NPSL. With a vision of how to improve soccer in America, Farrell is focused yet patient, knowing that real change takes time.
Men’s Soccer News: Kenny Farrell grew up loving soccer. A native of Dublin, Ireland Farrell lives in New Orleans and his team, the New Orleans Jesters has proudly played in the NPSL since 2012.
Now, the Chairman of the Board of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), Farrell is the guiding force behind the league that first kicked off in 2003. A man who believes in delivering the best sports entertainment possible, Farrell has coached soccer for decades and is changing the landscape of men’s soccer in America.
SoccerToday: A Conversation with Kenny Farrell
Diane Scavuzzo: What is new at the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) this year?
Kenny Farrell: We are kicking off the Founders Cup in the fall, which has already become very successful. And, one of the initiatives we’ll probably look at is to have an extended season in the future.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the goal behind the Founders Cup?
Kenny Farrell: Well, there’s a gap in the landscape between professional league standards in division three created by U.S. Soccer. They’re artificial standards, but they’re the standards of U.S. Soccer, and that’s fine.
The USL, which does a great job, is a franchise system, and a lot of people don’t want to go into that franchise system.
There’s a gap for year around soccer and there are a lot of teams who want to play on a high level, and there’s nothing meeting their needs.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is the Founders’ Cup really the beginning of a new top tier in the NPSL?
Kenny Farrell: Yes. I think it is — It is definitely something we needed to do because there was a yearning among our flagship clubs to have an extended season or a “pro” level league.
There is a wide range of ownership and levels within the Founders’ Cup group. As we all know, there are some former NASL teams, like the New York Cosmos, that joined the NPSL and then there are longstanding NPSL teams with huge fan bases like Chattanooga and Detroit City —and then there are other strong teams striving to advance.
The 11 founding members of the Founders Cup include ASC San Diego, Cal FC, California United Strikers FC, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, FC Arizona, Miami FC, Miami United FC, Milwaukee Torrent, New York Cosmos, and Oakland Roots, and plans are being developed to add additional clubs.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are your goals for NPSL? What is your strategy?
Kenny Farrell: The goals for the NPSL are to be the top amateur men’s soccer league in the country. Which I believe it is.
Our mission is really a strategic expansion.
We are looking at the gaps in the country where we believe we should have conferences and we’re focusing on them. NPSL’s future expansions of probably twenty to thirty teams will be strategically located so our teams will have less travel time, better opponents, and a stronger consistency within the league. Today, the NPSL is just short of a hundred teams and has a strong national footprint. The hope is to expand to 120 plus teams next year.
We’re really looking to improve the quality of life of all the clubs that are in the league.
And, as we grow, I believe we need to continue to define ourselves very clearly.
We’ve done a great job at the NPSL of positioning ourselves at the independent soccer league, compared to the franchise soccer league. And we want to continue defining ourselves as that as we move it forward because there is a real need in the country.
There’s room for both leagues, and I would hope that both leagues have a great relationship. Maybe, in the future, we can play crossover games.
Diane Scavuzzo: Are the leagues getting that friendly with each other?
Kenny Farrell: The leagues have got to start respecting each other.
The lack of respect has to change.
In American soccer — whatever level you’re in, whether it’s UPSL, NPSL, USL, MLS, or another league in U.S. Soccer — everyone’s got to start respecting each other and understanding that there’s room for everybody.
The more we work together, the better it will be for everyone.
So while you’re protecting your own business model, you still have to have respect for everyone around you. And if that flows both ways, we will have a better system in this country.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why do believe respect is so important?
Kenny Farrell: We should respect each other because we should all be comfortable in our own skins.
We all have a common goal and it is the betterment of the game.
Most of the clubs do a really good job. When respect becomes part of the soccer landscape we may be able to accomplish incredible things as a soccer nation.
Kenny Farrell: Yes, We were in the PDL for many years.
Diane Scavuzzo: What made you move from one league to another?
Kenny Farrell: It was the lack of being able to make decisions that we really wanted to make. For instance, we were not able to play Panama City, which is four hours away from us, or schedule a match against Mississippi because we were in the Texas Conference — so we had to play El Paso twice, which was fifteen hours away. And, we had to play West Texas twice, which was fourteen hours away from us. It didn’t make any sense.
The NPSL league was growing and moving in the right direction. It was a leap of faith for us to jump into it but we thought, with games that were closer, and a less rigid structure, it made more sense for us.
Diane Scavuzzo: Did people — your fans and sponsors — think of the NPSL was a step down from being part of USL PDL? Did people perceive it as a lateral move? Or advancing the team?
Kenny Farrell: There was absolutely no difference.
We thought of it as moving forward. The teams in the NPSL have a lot more say … So we were able to determine who we played, what conference we played in and make decisions that made more sense for our team. And, that’s the biggest difference.
We weren’t fighting with the USL when we left. We just needed to do what was in the best interest of our team at the time.
Diane Scavuzzo: So switching from the USL PDL to the NPSL didn’t really impact the team on game days?
Kenny Farrell: No, there really was no difference. On game nights, the fans came down, and the sponsors came in, and they didn’t know any difference at all. And the level of play was not different at all.
Now, before we made that jump we were worried about it, but as it turned out, no one really noticed we switched.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why do you think there’s so much contention between the soccer leagues?
Kenny Farrell: People don’t really trust each other when they get together. We need to start trusting each other, and it takes a long time to build trust. And, it only takes a second to break it. Major League Soccer (MLS) has done an absolutely brilliant job …
but we have to allow the communities to thrive on a local level if we want the game to prosper.