While TV news trucks encircled city hall and Sacramento focused its attention on yet another twist in the Kings/Maloof/arena saga, Sacramento’s newest professional sports franchise was busy rallying its fan base only a few blocks away.
Alley Katz, a beer and sports bar on on 21st and O streets, was full with about 150 boisterous soccer fans Tuesday night. They had come to watch the United States national team play Mexico away in a crucial World Cup qualifier, and to hear the latest announcement from Sacramento Professional Soccer, USL-Pro league franchise that is starting in Sacramento in 2014, with ambitions of one day joining Major League Soccer.
The crowd quieted down at half time to hear Warren Smith, the owner/president of Sacramento Pro Soccer and the co-founder of the River Cats, speak.
"This is about Sacramento for me. I’m not a soccer guy but I’m learning to become one every day,” he told the crowd. “I’ve just fallen in love with this sport, I’ve fallen in love with the people and frankly, across the world, people are helping us develop something special. So we want to do that for the people of Sacramento and help Sacramento grow. The eventual goal is to get into Major League Soccer… I know what we need to do to implement that plan."
Smith made several announcements:
• The team will soon be holding a naming contest via its web page, www.sacprosoccer.com, on April 1. The team’s nickname and colors will be chosen by fans.
• The team’s jersey and kit will be unveiled the week of July 15, during an event at Raley Field dubbed Sacramento Soccer Day. The day will begin with a game between a mid-tier English Premier League team and a Mexican League team, followed by a match between an all-star team of professional players from Sacramento, who will wear the team’s jersey, and a collection of players from Major League Soccer.
"We have 26 players (from Sacramento) who were drafted and played and spent a lot of time in Major League Soccer,” Smith said after the game. “They got to play everywhere but home. In rolling our kit, we wanted our fans to get the chance to see those players.”
• Sacramento City College’s Hughes Stadium, where the team will play its games in the 2014 season, can serve beer next year. This announcement drew a cheer from the fans, many of whom had already helped themselves to a free beer from the team.
The Sacramento chapter of American Outlaws, a supporters club for U.S. national team, lead chants throughout the game. R.J. Cooper, the president of the group, was impressed with what Smith had to say.
"I think it’s great that we have ownership behind our pro-team that’s putting money behind it,” he said. “I think we’re all really excited as supporters to get behind them vocally, show our colors, and I think it’s going to be a success.”
Byron Colborn, a 30-year-old fan from Davis, was optimistic the team would succeed. “With a good field and good support, just like there is tonight at Alley Cats, I think soccer can go far in Sacramento.”
Smith said the team has been holding off from making announcements over the last few weeks, as the city is focused on the fate of the Sacramento Kings, but will pick up the pace once the NBA makes its decision.
The night also served as a chance for Smith to mix with the crowd, shake hands, and a drink a few beers with nervous fans, who watched the US play poorly but still manage the unlikely result of drawing 0-0 with Mexico.
"Those that understand the sport – it’s deep, it’s deep knowledge," He said. "It’s almost similar to baseball in that there is so much in the game that people don’t understand because you just have to be around it. I’m becoming more and more versed in the game. We’re trying to be exceptionally true to the game, meaning that we’re trying to create that culture, that Portland/European culture, and in order to do that, I have to listen, and the first step is being willing to listen and get feedback from fans.”
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