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Portland, Maine granted USL League One franchise

By Staff, 09/07/23, 5:00PM EDT


USL to Portland to welcome Maine's first professional soccer club with 2025 kickoff

PORTLAND, Maine – The United Soccer League (USL) today announced that Portland, Maine has been granted the rights to a USL League One franchise. USL to Portland, the local group behind the effort, is the culmination of a former local soccer star’s vision and five years of purposeful community building to create a soccer club that embodies Portland’s independent spirit and is reflective of its diverse communities. With founding partners that also include Maine celebrities and well-regarded business and community leaders, USL to Portland’s future team intends to call Fitzpatrick Stadium home and kick off in USL League One in 2025.

"I am tremendously excited to welcome the United Soccer League to Maine," said Maine Governor Janet Mills. "The addition of a professional soccer club is a testament to our state and a welcome investment in the economic, cultural and community vitality of Maine, joining our existing professional sports teams to cement Portland as Northern New England’s premier sports destination. I congratulate the United Soccer League, USL to Portland, the City of Portland, and all who made this exciting announcement possible, and I look forward to attending games in the future."

With over three billion fans worldwide, soccer is the world’s largest sport and Maine’s most participated-in. The impact on Maine’s sports tourism economy is anticipated to generate more than $10 million in tax revenue for the region and create upwards of 50 permanent jobs.

"This news will put Maine on the global map for soccer," said Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. "Soon, Maine will host teams from across the country and shine a national spotlight on our state, benefitting our local economy by attracting new visitors, residents and businesses."

The United Soccer League (USL) is the largest and fastest-growing professional soccer organization in North America. USL Deputy CEO, Justin Papadakis, says, "Portland, Maine has every ingredient necessary to be wildly successful – a committed ownership group, a strong soccer culture and a vibrant multi-cultural population. We’ve built clubs in many cities, and we can see Portland’s potential to become one of the strongest."

Fitzpatrick Stadium, a Portland landmark since 1931, is a 6,000-seat, open-air athletic venue that is home to several Portland Public School athletic teams. The new team intends to become a non-exclusive rental tenant of the stadium, with current student and public use of the field continuing without interruption.

USL to Portland will privately fund upgrades to the facility, which will include increasing accessibility and functionality, adding locker rooms, renovating the press box and improving other general aesthetic needs. The proposed lease terms are supported by City of Portland staff, and with the approval of the City Council, the inaugural season at Fitzpatrick Stadium will be 2025.

"Having a professional team here in Portland will be life-changing for new Mainers coming from all corners of the world," said Portland’s Director of Social Justice, Umaru Balde. "When most arrive, they’re far from home and everything is unfamiliar – having a connection through soccer will bring people together and build a universal sense of belonging."

USL to Portland has prioritized social responsibility and inclusive community building since 2019. It has pledged 1% of revenues towards local high-impact organizations centered around DEI and underprivileged youth, donated 4,000 soccer balls to the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, hosted soccer matches and watch parties with over 10,000 attendees, and forged relationships with local soccer clubs focused on equitable access for underprivileged youth. USL to Portland has also aligned with Portland and South Portland’s One Climate Future Plan.

"Since I started this pursuit to bring professional soccer to my home state, my goal has always been to build community and use it as a conduit for social good. Portland is an incredible city, and this club will directly contribute to uniting the ever-growing mosaic of who Portland is, and who it’s going to be," said founder Gabe Hoffman-Johnson.

Hoffman-Johnson is a two-time All-American and two-time Gatorade Maine Boys Soccer Player of the Year at Falmouth High School. He captained the men’s soccer team at Dartmouth College and played professionally in the USL Championship. The foundership team includes Jonathan and Catherine Culley of Redfern Properties, a Portland-based housing developer, and Lewiston-native Tom Caron, a 30-year media veteran and current member of NESN’s Red Sox broadcasting team. Together, the team led a successful, long-term endeavor to bring this vision to fruition.

The club will host a series of town-hall-style meetings to engage the community in the process of naming the team and designing its crest and colors, while also seeking input on gameday fan experience and educating the fans, youth soccer and business communities ahead of kickoff.

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