Photo | AFC Mobile
The Gulf Coast Premiere League, featuring minor league soccer teams in Mobile and Baldwin counties, begins its regular season this week.
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. It would only make sense that Mobile and Baldwin counties would be home to a pair of clubs in the Gulf Coast Premier League (GCPL).
The AFC Mobile’s Azaleas and the Gulf Coast FC’s Rangers both enter the latest minor league soccer season with new coaches and some new rivals.
Steve Wieczorek, current head coach of the Spring Hill College men’s soccer team, the Badgers, has taken over the Azaleas’ reins. Wieczorek joins AFC Mobile after leading the Badgers to their first-ever NCAA Division II Tournament appearance and Gulf South Conference Championship.
“After speaking to the board, I was extremely excited to take on the project,” Wieczorek told Lagniappe. “Their ambitions matched mine and I couldn’t wait to get started with the club.”
Wieczorek began his 15-year coaching career as a goalkeeper coach at his alma mater, Fairfield University. Since joining Spring Hill, Wieczorek led the Badgers to their initial United Soccer Coaches national ranking, finishing No. 21 in the final poll of the 2018 season.
Wieczorek replaces Nate Nicholas, who resigned from his position as head coach ahead of this season. He led the Azaleas during its first two campaigns, but said he wanted to focus more on his family and the McGill-Toolen Catholic High School soccer program.
AFC Mobile is coming off a 4-6 record in 2018. The team finished fourth in the East Division of the GCPL.
Port City FC of Gulfport, Mississippi, won the division and eventually the league title with a 5-3 victory over Motagua New Orleans. The GCPL Cup playoffs took place at Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb Athletic Complex (The Lip) in Mobile.
The East Division has expanded this year to seven squads. Returning with AFC Mobile and Port City are the Gulf Coast Rangers and Pensacola FC. New members of the league are Hattiesburg (Mississippi) FC and Tallahassee (Florida) SC, which brings the GCPL to 18 teams.
“I coached the Rangers last summer, so I had played against AFC on two occasions and have experience coaching in the league,” Wieczorek said. “I knew they were well-supported by the community and had an infrastructure that could support sustained success in the GCPL.”
Following a few preseason matches, AFC Mobile will open its regular season on Saturday at The Lip against Tallahassee SC. Port City FC will face AFC Mobile at The Lip on May 25 in the first leg of the “Forgotten Coast Cup,” as the rivalry is called by fans.
The first half of AFC Mobile’s season will conclude at The Lip with a match on June 8 against the Gulf Coast Rangers. The Azaleas will host Hattiesburg on June 22 and will return to The Lip for the final home game of the regular season against Pensacola on July 6.
“Each summer starts a new season,” Wieczorek said. “We have to respect the accomplishments of Port City in the last campaign, but it is more important to prepare for all of our opponents in the right way. I expect us to compete hard and improve over the course of the season and hopefully the successes on the field will come over time.”
All home games start at 7 p.m. and are played at The Lip, which is located at 3610 Michael Blvd. in Mobile. Individual game tickets are $5, and children ages 12 and younger are admitted free of charge. Season tickets are $50. Fans can also purchase a wristband and AFC Mobile Battleship T-shirt or AFC Mobile scarf package for $65.
“We have the best supporters in the GCPL,” Wieczorek said. “Not only do they come out in full force at the Lip, but many fans will travel to our away games too. It’s a major boost for our players to have that level of support behind them. They deserve our best and we will give it to them each and every minute throughout the season.”
Evonik has become the jersey sponsor of AFC Mobile. As a long-time partner and primary shareholder of Borussia Dortmund, one of the largest and most successful teams in Germany, Evonik has experience in developing its communities through soccer. The company coordinated a coaching clinic in the Mobile area in 2018 provided by the eight-time German champions. Evonik’s largest production facility in North America is located in the Theodore Industrial Park. Other team sponsors are Gulf Coast Tours, iHeart Media, Mobile Screen Printing and Austal.
For more information on the Azaleas, visit afcmobile.net and facebook.com/AFCMobile.
Gulf Coast Rangers
The Baldwin County squad is coming off an outstanding run in its inaugural season. The Rangers were 5-3-2, finishing second in the division to Port City. They lost in the playoffs to Motagua by a 3-2 score.
Taking over as head coach is Daniel Whelan. He has overseen the men’s program at the University of Mobile since 2014, having led the Rams to consecutive Southern States Athletic Conference titles in 2014 and 2015.
The men’s team that plays in the GCPL is just one segment of the program. “We now have two academies, Daphne Rangers Academy and Fairhope Rangers Academy, working together under our umbrella,” Xavier Audergon, the Rangers’ under-13 director, told Lagniappe. “Our club has programs, competitive and recreational, for all ages from 4 years old up to [adult] men’s and women’s teams.”
The men open play Friday at Pensacola. The home schedule at Fairhope Municipal Stadium (701 Volanta Ave.) starts Saturday, May 25, with a twinbill. The women face Pensacola at 5 p.m. while the men take on Hattiesburg at 7 p.m.
The men’s next home games are Wednesday, June 5, against Port City, and Saturday, June 15, versus Pensacola. Another double-header will be on Saturday, June 22, with the women playing Baton Rouge at 5 p.m. and the men facing Tallahassee at 7 p.m.
The final home game will be against AFC Mobile on Saturday, July 13, at 7 p.m. Admission for the single games is $5 while for the double-headers it is $8. A season pass is $35 for just tickets or $50 with a parking pass (promo code APRIL2019SP).
“The objective of our men’s team, as well as our women’s team, is to provide a place to play for our youth players, our alumni, our coaches and some of the local talents of our area,” Audergon said. “We want to be competitive, but also keep our own players’ development as a milestone in our ‘why we do this.’”
Additional details on the Rangers can be found at gulfcoastrangersfc.com, gcrfc.com and facebook.com/gcrangersfc.
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