Here’s the other place you can watch the big match-up out of the PDL tonight…
It’s Tormenta FC trying to sweep the 2-game set in Statesboro from Nashville SC U23
Your Wednesday match-up for your SoccerCast is in the PDL as the SC Bantams travel to Statesboro, Georgia to take on South Georgia Tormenta FC
It’s an important match for both teams as they try to catch Nashville’s U-23 side that has scored a boatload of goals on their way to a 5-0 beginning in 2017…
Here’s your OSG/SDH SoccerCast for Thursday Night…
PDL action with Tormenta FC and Peachtree City MOBA from Statesboro, Georgia
Kickoff 8PM Eastern
As a part of our coverage of Soccer Down Here, franchises around the footprint are letting us share their broadcasts with you…
Tonight at 8 eastern, Tormenta FC in the PDL squares off with Myrtle Beach Mutiny
Yesterday, Tormenta FC owner Darin Van Tassell spoke with us about the success his club achieved in 2016. Today, general manager Ben Freakley tells us about his role, what he learned last year, and what he is looking forward to in 2017.
Thanks again to the club for speaking with us at Soccer Down Here.
Jon Nelson: What attracted you to the job in the first place? A lot of folks think of themselves as “builders,” was that part of your attraction?
Ben Freakley: Darin Van Tassell attracted me to the job. I had met him while coaching his son in our youth club long before any of us had the idea that we would add a PDL franchise. Darin has a contagious energy and vision. My original role was set as GM. As we got close to the start of the season, Darin and Jeremy (Aven) came back to me again and asked if I would like to be GM and head coach.
I never looked at myself as a “builder.” I knew that the ownership group put an incredible amount of resources into the franchise and didn’t want to let them down. As far as the team goes, I just wanted to give them a clear vision of who we were trying to be and plan training sessions that would reflect that vision on game day.
JN: Any role models that you may take your style and/or coaching approach from?
BF: Richard Rose and Ralph Lundy have been the two biggest coaching role models in my life. I have had the opportunity to learn from some amazing coaches along the way, but those two stand out the most. Richie’s approach and detail in training sessions is magical, and Ralph’s ability to get the most out of every player is something that has always stayed with me. While they are both very different coaches, they both share a deep commitment to their players. I am grateful to have been able to work with both of them.
JN: What was it like assembling a squad from scratch?
BF: It was a great deal of work on two levels. First, I had to tell the story of who we were trying to be rather that who we were. We were starting from nothing, so it was paramount that we got that first group of players right. Secondly, between tryouts, video and phone calls there were a lot of players to see. Selecting 25 players was difficult, because there were so many to choose from.
I enjoyed the process immensely. Through it, I was able to build relationships with the players before they arrived for the season as well as speak with some very successful college coaches about their players, programs and goals for the future. Seeing them all report to Statesboro to start training was a reminder that this process takes time and deserves attention.
JN: And to see the side come out for that first match?
BF: I thought to myself, “This is awesome.” We were on the road, and it was a tough environment. There had to be 1500-2000 people in attendance, and there were a couple fans that were beating the hell out of some drums the whole game. All week we had talked about defending, and we got a shutout in our first ever game. And a week later we played our first home match, and over 3100 fans were there cheering for the Magenta and Blue… and that’s when I knew we were on to something special.
JN: What was the biggest surprise last season?
BF: Not really a surprise because I have always believed he is a special player, but James Brighton is a name to know. He was raised up in our youth club for 6 years and is the leading goal scorer in the USSF DA now with Atlanta United. We put James on the roster because we want the best youth players in our club to have that opportunity in the PDL. James made the 25 man roster and scored some great goals for us this past season. He is the most professional youth player I have ever worked with and he will be a pro someday. He is hungry and humble, and I am excited to see where his career goes. He took his shirt off after he scored his first goal ever…I guess that was a surprise.
JN: What was the biggest takeaway for you as a coach?
BF: Less is more. Whether it is giving instruction in training, a pre-game talk, a post-game talk or the length of training sessions, less is more.
JN: Who should folks look out for as players both from Year One and looking forward to Year Two?
BF: Jad Arslan is coming back, and he is a ball of fire in the middle. He played with Tony Annan (Academy Director with Atlanta United) as a youth player and now plays at West Virginia University. We are excited to have Jad back, and his training mentality is contagious.
Peyton Ericson from South Carolina is also coming back after being named PDL All-Eastern Conference last year. He is another one of Tony’s kids from Atlanta and is a very athletic center back.
Sam Lofts led us in goals last year and went on to lead Lander in goals this season as well. His movement off the ball is nice, and he finds the ball at the right time enabling him to do his job.
Team captain Ayao Sossou is back again and will be our team’s oldest and most experienced player – he’s a fan favorite as he coaches for us in the club during the year and does a great job with the youth players. The newcomers arrive with some great stats from their college teams and endorsements from their coaches. We’re looking forward to the additions.
JN: What is the biggest challenge for you in Year Two?
BF: On every level, outdo Year One. Win more games. Get more players in the PDL spotlight. Add to the fan base. Qualify for Open Cup.
JN: To see the club recognized at the league level for their accomplishments in Year One. how cool was that?
BF: That award is a testament to Heidi Jeffers. She is our Vice-President for Franchise Development and works nonstop on all things Tormenta FC. Between marketing, sponsorships, social media, player interviews, coaching interviews, ticket sales and merchandising… she really does it all. She is exceptionally smart, and I was thrilled to be sitting next to her when we won that award just to see her and Darin smile.
JN: With tryouts around the corner, what kind of player are you looking for?
BF: There are so many players available for PDL. We get inquiries from everywhere. To be good in the league, a player has to be able to do his job very well. To be great in the league, a player has to be able to transition.
One of the things I learned most last year is that the better players could transition in the game to the attacking or defending side of the ball without delay. That’s important to me. I don’t want guys that can just attack well or defend well. I want guys that are going to commit to winning the ball back together as a team with enthusiasm. I want guys that are going to put their head down and run into the box to score a goal because it’s a numbers game, and one or two in the box is low percentage from an attacking standpoint.
Most importantly… I want guys that are going to be high character role models in the community. We are a community team, and our fan base has a great range. I want for our fans to fall in love with our team for the quality of the young men that make up the roster.
JN: Describe Tormenta’s style and approach to play. Is there a certain “attitude” you think you have and in the players you’re looking for in Year Two?
BF: We want to balance attractive and effective soccer. The attitude we talk about in training at the PDL level is having a hunger to “master” the things learned along the way. Our mission statement is only three words: Pros Start Here. As a result, attention to detail in all aspects of the game is critical. We will approach each game as its own opportunity and blend who we are with what we need to do on the night.
JN: Looking into your crystal ball, how would you like to see things grow and evolve going forward?
BF: I would love to see these guys playing in the Open Cup. I believe we have the facilities, fan base and community support to host PDL playoffs which would be great for Tormenta FC. I believe we are close enough to some bigger soccer markets that will also afford us affiliate or partnership opportunities in the future. Lastly, I would love to see Tormenta FC playing games against USL or MLS teams during the summer to give our players in the PDL other opportunities to grow and be seen.
In their first year, the South Georgia Tormenta won the PDL’s New Franchise of the Year Award. Owner Darin Van Tassel and General Manager Ben Freakley put together this club with the idea of making them a standard-bearer for soccer in the South. With new head coach John Milgarese taking the helm in 2017, the sky appears to be the limit going forward.
Thanks to the club for taking the time to speak to us about the work they are doing in Statesboro, Georgia. Check back tomorrow for an interview with Ben Freakley, please enjoy today’s conversation with Darin Van Tassel.
Jon Nelson: How did the idea for the club come about?
Darin Van Tassel: I had been involved with the International Baseball Federation from 1989 – 20010, and during that time I was fortunate enough to be in three Olympics, two World Cups, 4 Continental Championships, and 2 World Baseball Classics. And I was able to travel to over 40 countries during this time. So while the IBAF is a smaller international federation when compared to FIFA, their missions are the same: use the power and global language of sport to build bridges among the peoples of the world through such competitions. That experience helped me understand that sport is more than just entertainment. And when you couple that experience with what I was witnessing in terms of the growth of soccer in the United States, I knew we could do something big. The USL’s Premier Development League was an ideal place to begin.
JN: Take us back to the first game last year, what was it like to see all of that work come to fruition?
DVT: It is much like raising a child. My wife Netra and I are both active owners. She has an incredible business mind, and between the two of us, we hit the ground running. Everything we did had to feel and give the appearance of a professional organization. So when we opened up on the road in May 2016, we went from not having a team name and any players eight months earlier to having fans dressed in Tormenta FC colors and official apparel – traveling on the road six hours away in Johnson City, TN to watch us play our first match. You better believe we were both smiling.
JN: What did it take to get to Opening Day?
DVT: Our mission statement is Pros Start Here. We seek to put our players in a position to climb the professional soccer ranks. But we also seek to create an environment where members of our front office staff and our executive team will be able to migrate on to the higher professional ranks as well. That is important to me. Whether one works and plays for the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Bulls, the Dallas Cowboys – or Tormenta FC – I believe that everyone in our organization has to have the same skill set of professionalism and understand how to grow a franchise. The scale might be different in these organizations, but our processes should be identical.
JN: How has the response been in your community?
DVT: Part of the reason for basing the Tormenta FC franchise in here was because Statesboro is ready to be a “minor league city.” That brand means something to a community that is on the rise like ours. Our mayor, city council, county commissioners, university personnel were all graciously on board. Statesboro is a much more cosmopolitan place than people living elsewhere get to appreciate, quite frankly. There are over 27,000 college students in our three institutions here (GS, Ogeechee Tech, and East Georgia College), and when schools in, Statesboro is about the 15th largest city in the state. Georgia Southern University is the economic engine in our area, but the fans of our franchise reach well beyond the university – and that’s really the testament to the game of soccer. Our fan base is stretches to Savannah and Hilton Head, SC and out to central Georgia and Augusta as well. Sports tourism is economic development – which makes it big business — and college towns like Statesboro understand that reality all too well. We averaged over 2000 fans per game, and over 14,000 watched us play last season at home. That made us the attendance leader in the PDL for the Eastern Conference according to the League Office. Every one of our homes games was streamed live on internet and the play by play was done by ESPN announcers. With a pre-game band, an enormous video board, an outstanding VIP section, a raucous fan base sitting behind the opposing team’s goal – it really is a site to behold. Especially when one is reminded that this is soccer being played in a college football town. We do love our sports here in south Georgia.
JN: What was the biggest lesson you learned in Year One?
DVT: Process matters. Our business is the experience business. We knew that going into this, and everything we experienced along the way just confirmed it time and time again. We use the game of soccer to create amazing experiences. That lesson can never be lost on us, because it is the most important thing. And the most important thing IS the most important thing. The people running the video boards and TV production are just as important to the franchise as the attacking midfielder and GM are. Relationships matter.
JN: The club was recognized by the league for its work on and off the field. What did that mean to you?
DVT: Oh, that was BIG TIME STUFF. I was so proud of our franchise that day. To be named New Franchise of the Year in a league that is filled with amazing talent in the other franchises was such a rush. There were so many people that contributed to this award, too. Heidi Jeffers, David Ball, Netra Van Tassell…all the way to our chef John Witherington who prepared the amazing food we had in the VIP section every game. To be honored by one’s peers is easily the kindest award there is.
JN: What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking about starting their own club?
DVT: Take every cue you can from best organizations out there. Model your organization after theirs. It’s a difference of scale not a difference of kind. Every detail matters. And remember this: it’s about the community and the people in the organization – it’s not about you.
JN: What is Tormenta planning to do to follow up on its first year success?
DVT: It’s time to qualify for the OPEN CUP and win a championship. That is our goal. Doubling our attendance numbers I don’t think is out of the question either.
JN: Looking down the road a bit, how would you like to see the club grow and evolve?
DVT: Ultimately, the franchise exists to win championships and be a successful business enterprise. At some point, we need to build our own stadium here in Statesboro. And as we grow the youth side of our club, the ability to partner with a USL or MLS franchise would be a wonderful evolution for soccer in our part of the state. We have already partnered with three clubs in Europe, and those relationship promise to bear fruit as well. Great things await, and we are just getting started.