Photo courtesy Troy Glasgow / USL Memphis
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – As he walked onto the dais, accompanied by the other dignitaries at Monday’s arrival of Memphis to the USL, there was a familiar reception for U.S. Men’s National Team Goalkeeper Tim Howard.
The local chapter of the American Outlaws began chanting “Timmy Howard”, and the smile on the Memphis resident’s face grew wide as a historic day for soccer arrived in his adopted hometown.
Howard’s presence at Monday’s announcement was as a supporter of the club, but since he first met with Redbirds owners Peter Freund and Craig Unger a little over two months ago, the 38-year-old has provided plenty of expertise to the new organization.
“I told these guys, ‘use me in any way, shape or form,’” Howard said following Monday’s announcement. “‘Put me on conference calls, ask questions,’ and we’ve done that, to be honest, for the last two months. We’ve spit-balled a lot of things, brainstormed, for me it’s been exciting. This [game] runs in my blood and these guys are excited and passionate about it.”
The assembled crowd of local fans and businesspeople certainly seemed ready for the club’s arrival in Memphis, the second city in Tennessee to become home to a USL club in the past three years and the latest addition to the league’s growing footprint in the Southeast.
While the league and the Redbirds’ ownership group led by Freund and Unger had been in long-term discussions over the organization becoming part of the league, for Freund the timing of the club’s arrival couldn’t be better.
“Now that I look at this central location, it’s just a perfect fit,” said Freund. “I couldn’t imagine Memphis not being part of it, so to me it’s just a no-brainer on so many levels beyond the fact that it’s going to be a wonderful thing for Memphis and the community.”
Having someone like Howard to act as a resource as the club begins to build toward its kickoff next year has also proved invaluable to the club’s owners.
“He continues to surprise me,” said Freund about Howard. “His enthusiasm is even more than mine, and when he said he would do anything to help us, he meant it. Text messages, phone calls, visits here to the ballpark, strategy sessions, talking about a future sporting director, coaches, he’s all-in, so it’s been great.”
And while his playing days are far from over, Howard is looking forward to what Memphis will bring to the American soccer community in 2019 and beyond.
“This is my adopted hometown, and as I mentioned in my remarks, soccer brings communities and fanbases and teams together like no other sport,” Howard said. “Soccer is passion. It’s about the fans. We may win, we may lose on the day, but the fans will have flares and sing and dance and march. It’s an event, and people want to be part of this because of the wins and losses, but because also what it means to be part of this group.”