Jun 30, 201503:55 PMCulture
Fun and Culture in the Mid-State
An Island of Goals
The Harrisburg City Islanders inception was in 2003 when the team made its home on one of Harrisburg’s most beloved attractions, City Island. The team is in their 12th season and has made it to the top of the amateur rank right below Major League Soccer as they play in the United Soccer League. The Islanders are directly affiliated with the Philadelphia Union and are filter young, talented players up to the MLS club almost every year. Harrisburgmagazine.com sat down to talk with Team President Tiago Lopes and discussed the City Islanders as he is just in his second year with the team. We discussed the history, his expectations and what the people of Central Pennsylvania can look forward to in the coming years cheering on our home club at Skyline Sports Complex.
Who are the Harrisburg City Islanders?
The City Islanders are a club rich with history even though it is only our 12th season. The Islanders are growing rapidly along with pro soccer in America, whether it’s our USL Pro League or the MLS. Kids are loving soccer more and more. We have been here a decade and want to be here to see and celebrate another decade. Having the capital of Pennsylvania recognized in a big way is special and gets our city, wonderful community and fan base on the map.
How is the season going and what are your expectations as an organization?
The season is great so far and very successful on and off the field. Our club in my first year with the team advanced to the USL PRO Championship but fell to Sacramento Republic FC 2-0. We were the Cinderella team in the USL in 2014 and we were privileged and lucky to advance so far. The expectation for this season is to make the playoffs and step up our performance from last year. We have a young core with talented players all over the roster and growth is our main goal. We want to be a development ground for these young men to send them off to great careers in the highest level of soccer possible for their skill set. Last season attendance increased by 40 percent and 2 games sold out. This season were looking for growth in attendance, in our fan base and with our young players.
What’s happening at Skyline Sports Complex and what does the future of the pitch look like?
The plan for The Skyline Complex is to renovate and build a soccer specific stadium not just for the Islanders but for the surrounding community, college teams, high school and the youth of Central Pennsylvania. We have applied for a $5 million loan to finance the new stadium and upgrade the existing facility. As attendance grows we want to be able to keep up with that and make for a family friendly facility that will attract the community. The stadium will help create jobs while in construction and after the project is complete with concession stands and merchandise too. The future is now and the growth that our team and the league has experienced over the last couple of years makes way for a brand new breed of soccer fans.
What are some of the things that are happening with the organization throughout this season?
The biggest thing for this season is committing to making our plans for a new stadium a reality. We want to grow the fan base, focus on fans and focus on the community. We have 20-plus youth partnerships which serves 1,000’s of kids and offers dozens of free clinics for a large population of the kids right here in the mid-state. We want to grow in any and every way possible. That includes our marketing strategies and even our corporate structure. We have games that are broadcasted live on YouTube and we want to grow our viewing market as well.
What are your plans for the future of this team? And is the USL the best fit for this team?
Going forward we want to be a big part of the MLS environment and a powerful team that is well known for our talent but as well as all stars in the community. We want to be successful not just on the pitch but off of it too. The only way to do that is to give our time and effort into giving back and caring about the community and to help our fellow neighbors. We want to also be financially self-efficient, with our low budget like any business, want to grow into an organization that can support ourselves and be profitable. The last expectation moving forward would be winning a title. We were close in 2014 to winning the USL PRO League and want to get back there, whatever it takes. The USL is the best place for this team, with no doubt. Our team is one of the top 100 teams in CONCACAF, the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football. The USL is also one of the best pro sports league in the country. There are currently 24 teams and expansion keeps going and going. There are teams for Los Angeles to New York, with both cities being affiliated with their parent club in the MLS which are the LA Galaxy and The New York Red Bulls. The teams are remarkable and the competition is even better.
What has been your favorite moment being involved with the world’s most beloved sport, soccer?
It is so hard to choose just one moment but I will pick a few of my favorites. The first and one of the most influential was working with Manchester United in the EPL, English Premier League. I worked there for 5+ years and loved every second of it. I worked with Sir Alex Ferguson who was the manager from 1986-2013. It was a dream to be working with him on a daily basis. From a young man who grew up in Portugal loving soccer it was a great experience. Another one of my favorite moments was back in 2010 launching a grass roots project in India in order for the children there to be able to play soccer. It was a great moment and I love to give back. Last but not least my last moment would be our team reaching the USL PRO Championship and competing. These have all been moments that are remarkable for me but also stepping stones for what’s next. And trust me there’s more to come.
Tiago really understands the game and understands the business of pro soccer. He is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to soccer. He is a man of great character and is definitely leading the City Islanders in the right direction. His devotion to the community along with his passion for the team to be successful is going to take the organization to new heights. With the resources and knowledge he brings to the table along with the partnership with the Philadelphia Union being the City Islanders parent organization the sky is the limit. Don’t be surprised if soccer becomes the biggest sport in Central PA in the coming years and Tiago will deserve a lot of the credit on and off the field.