Many athletic entities are working to return to some form of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those making plans is the AFC Mobile minor league soccer program.
It was announced in July that AFC Mobile would participate in the National Premier Soccer League’s (NPSL) Under-19 pilot program. This comes after the 2020 season was canceled back in March. It would have been AFC Mobile’s first appearance in the NPSL, after having competed for three seasons in the Gulf Coast Premier League (GCPL).
“As of right now, the U-19 pilot program is still on for the fall, although we don’t have official match dates set,” Mitchell Kahalley, the director of communications for AFC Mobile, told Lagniappe.
The pilot program will fall under the management of NPSL, and will be affiliated with the United States Adult Soccer Association. The participating teams include AFC Mobile, New Orleans Jesters, Pensacola FC and Port City FC.
The season is set to run from September through November. Each team will play a total of six games, three home and three away.
“The introduction of a U-19 pilot under the NPSL umbrella represents our commitment to grassroots soccer and supporting our teams’ growth potential,” NPSL Chairman Kenny Farrell said in a news release. “This new venture positions our clubs to further refine the local pathway to the top level of soccer in their area. Players from all backgrounds will have access to a highly visible platform to showcase their talent — particularly in geographic areas where opportunities are limited.”
The game-day roster will consist of U-17, U-18 and U-19 players, along with up to three overage players.
“The NPSL U-19 pilot is a perfect representation of what the teams in our conference want from their academies: a direct relationship with a pathway to our senior team,” AFC Mobile co-owner Sean Landry told the media. “It’s exciting that the NPSL is providing new and challenging developmental opportunities for the young players in Mobile, on the Gulf Coast and, hopefully soon, throughout the country.”
First-team head coach Steve Wieczorek will manage AFC Mobile’s U-19 squad. Wieczorek led AFC Mobile to the GCPL Cup playoffs in 2019.
Youth soccer plans
AFC Mobile has also announced plans to form a youth soccer academy in the fall.
“As of right now, we’re still planning on going ahead with Academy training,” Kahalley told Lagniappe in regards to the specter of COVID-19.
According to organizers, the goal of the AFC Mobile Academy is to develop soccer players of all ages in Mobile and the surrounding areas through a unified system of coaches, teams and training philosophies. Working with the community of Mobile and using relationships throughout the country, the academy would strive to create opportunities for young players, while building a community of passionate and knowledgeable soccer players and people.
“This is a step we’ve been talking about for a few years, but we wanted to make sure we could execute our vision and do things the right way,” Landry told the media. “The AFC Mobile Academy will enable us to dedicate ourselves to producing the next generation of AFC Mobile players and supporters. We’re committed to producing players who are passionate and knowledgeable about the game and their community.”
The academy intends to field teams open to both boys and girls. The first group of teams will be built with the players and coaches of the former Mobile Texans youth club, a satellite club of the Pensacola-based Gulf Coast Texans.
Wieczorek will head the project as the academy’s technical director. Former Texans director of coaching and Indiana University forward Craig Ginsberg will assist Wieczorek as the academy director.
“I’m certainly excited and eager to expand my role at AFC Mobile as technical director of the youth academy,” said Wieczorek, who is working to complete his doctoral degree in sports management this month. “With the AFC Mobile Academy, the senior club is creating a clear pathway for young players to reach their highest potential and develop a lifelong love for the game.”
In addition to his duties with AFC Mobile, Wieczorek has been the Spring Hill College men’s soccer coach since 2015. In 2017, his team secured the best finish in program history by finishing 12-3 and second in the Gulf South Conference (GSC). In 2018, he bettered that mark with the Badgers becoming the only team in GSC history to go undefeated in conference play, winning both the regular season and league tournament championships. He has won more matches than any head coach in the program’s history.
“From the first day as coach of our senior team, Steve has been unbelievably passionate about our club and its growth,” Landry said. “I’ve rarely encountered anyone with the technical and coaching knowledge he has. With that passion, his experience coaching all over the country, his track record of coaching players who have seen success in the highest professional and collegiate ranks in America, our young players will be in good hands.”
Those interested in the U-19 team or academy should contact the club at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the organization, visit afcmobile.net.
My deepest thanks
I began my professional writing career in 1979. During that time, I have been nominated for several awards. However, I never took home the prize.
When I learned I had won a Nappie Award for Favorite Lagniappe Columnist, I first thought the editors were joking. To say I was shocked by the announcement would be an understatement.
First, I want to thank my wife, Donna, my biggest fan and proofreader. Next, I want to thank the Lagniappe staff, who gave me the opportunity to keep writing after my job with daily newspapers came to an end.
And, of course, many cheers to our readers. I have tried to bring you interesting and unusual stories you do not find anywhere else. This award is as much yours as it is mine.
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