McKeever and Co. building something special in Knoxville ahead of first pro season | Image Credit: One Knoxville SC
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Professional outdoor soccer has arrived in Knoxville for the first time, as One Knoxville SC becomes the 10th professional soccer club to kick off in the history of the Volunteer State. Knoxville becomes the third former USL League Two team to join League One after the club won the South Central Division and progressed to the Conference Finals in its inaugural 2022 campaign. Knoxville are also set to retain inaugural Head Coach Mark McKeever who holds a wealth of coaching experience from League Two sides Des Moines Menace and Mississippi Brilla FC and NCAA Division II power Young Harris College.
Knoxville kicked off its professional era with the signing of two-time USL Championship title-winner and FK Crvena zvezda youth product, Ilija Ilić, who reunited with Mark McKeever after the Serbian striker tallied a whopping 64 goals in 72 appearances at Young Harris. Not long after, Knoxville welcomed back its inaugural season captain, James Thomas, who also developed collegiately under the direction of McKeever. The 2023 season will be the first professional experience for the 25-year-old Thomas after claiming a League Two title with Des Moines Menace in 2021.
The chemistry of Knoxville’s 2023 squad should already be relatively well-developed thanks to the numerous connections through Mark McKeever’s time at the NCAA and League Two levels. Additionally, this roster just doesn’t have the look of a first-year League One side – it’s honestly pretty stacked. Building from the back, Knoxville will welcome in All-League First Team defender Jalen Crisler from Richmond and ultra-productive defender Jordan Skelton from North Carolina. Knoxville will also pair USL Championship and League One veterans Angelo Kelly-Rosales, Jake Keegan and Jimmie Villalobos with former youth internationals Frank Ross and Ahinga Selemani who both played in Europe a season ago. Don't be shocked if One Knox makes some noise in its first pro season.
Frank Ross | Image Credit: Go Ahead Eagles
Last year, Frank Ross was in Deventer, Netherlands playing for Go Ahead Eagles in the Dutch Eredivisie. Now, the former Scotland youth international is in the heart of Appalachia and ready to suit up for expansion side Knoxville in the club’s first professional match. Growing up just outside of Aberdeen, Scotland, Ross developed in the youth system of local Scottish Premiership side Aberdeen FC from the age of just eight. After making his first-team debut with Aberdeen in 2015, Ross accumulated a combined 37 appearances and four goals with Aberdeen and Scottish Championship clubs Greenock Morton FC and Ayr United FC between 2015 and 2020. Most recently, Ross moved to the second-tier Dutch Eerste Divisie where he helped Go Ahead Eagles earn promotion to the top-flight Eredivisie in 2021.
Jordan Skelton | Image Credit: North Carolina FC
Possibly flying under the radar a bit with all the movement of attacking players during the offseason, Knoxville’s signing of former North Carolina defender Jordan Skelton could be huge in the expansion side’s inaugural professional campaign. Despite some lackluster goalkeeping in Cary skewing the defensive numbers a bit, the USL League One and League Two veteran defender enjoyed yet another productive season in 2022. Skelton led the league with 31 blocks and 164 clearances while also leading all defenders with 1,539 passes completed and 149 duels won. That individual productivity was apparent in American Soccer Analysis’ evaluations; Skelton led the league in goals added.