Photo courtesy of American Outlaws Little Rock Chapter
The growth of the game across the United States is evident in many cities, especially in Little Rock, Arkansas, where the Little Rock Rangers have built an impressive following since being formed in 2015.
The United Soccer League announced the creation of a new third-division league, set to kick off in 2019, in April. Since then, the USL’s DIII expansion team has been in discussions with more than 40 markets and has visited 13 different cities in the Southeast and Midwest.
As interest in the new third-division league increases, markets – such as Little Rock – are being noticed as potential candidates for a professional team.
“Little Rock would be good for professional soccer because soccer is on the rise in the city,” American Outlaws Little Rock Chapter President Patrick Rawhouser told USLD3.com. “Last year, the Little Rock Rangers began playing and drew approximately 6,000 fans for their first game. Since then, we've averaged over 2,000 fans over the last year.
“The atmosphere is always electric, thanks to the two supporters groups, Red Order and Red Watch. Little Rock is a city longing for sports, as the only other professional team is a AA baseball team, the Travelers, in addition to the beloved Razorbacks, who play in Fayetteville three hours away.”
AO Little Rock started forming during the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the summer of 2013, and in December of that same year, it officially became the 107th chapter of the American Outlaws. The chapter meets regularly for U.S. games at Dugan’s Pub.
“I believe Little Rock supports soccer more than the rest of the state,” Rawhouser said. “There are multiple youth-level teams in the capitol city, and the Rangers are active in engaging with them. Fayetteville is the only other city in the state with an AO chapter, and while I've heard of support in other cities, nothing has ever come from it.”
The USL’s third-division league looks to bring a proven professional experience to markets yearning for the sport, and it appears as though Little Rock is ready for that next step.
“What we always strive to do through AO is raise the profile of soccer in Little Rock,” Rawhouser said. “I cannot count the number of times people have told me they've always loved soccer but didn't know there were so many others like them around. Many people still think of soccer as a fringe sport or not really a sport – which is a very popular, albeit, dying opinion in the South – and the only way to change that mindset is show them, which we've been very successful in doing.
“Having something to bring the city together is a rare thing, and sports provide that opportunity, and that is sorely lacking in Little Rock right now. The Rangers have begun that process, no doubt, but a professional team would be the next step in our growing sports culture. We don't have the history of soccer in the city like so many others do, but that doesn't mean we can't play or don't support soccer. We are making that history as we speak, through the Rangers, the youth teams, and the multiple local colleges in the Little Rock area.”