BigShot Q&A: Western Mass Pioneers President – Celso CorreiaCelso Correia discusses the relationship with the Revs, relegation and how the Pioneers came about
by Herb Scribner | Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Celso Correia serves as both the President and Assistant Head Coach of the Western Massachusetts Pioneers, a Premier Development League team in the USL. He is also President of Gremio Lusitano Club an amateur club from Ludlow. Correia came to the United States at 14 and is a big fan of Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon.
Tell the readers a little about yourself and how you got involved with the sport.
CC: I came to the US when I was young, 14, moving right into the Ludlow, Mass., area. Soccer was big in this area, just like back home, so it was easy to keep playing. Played for many years with the Gremio Lusitano Club from Ludlow, which now I am President. [I] have been since 1997.
Did you always want to own a soccer club?
CC: Not always, but after playing for so many years I thought owning a team would be a great way to stay involved with such a great sport.
How did the Pioneers come about?
CC: Funny story! It originated as a friendly wager back in 1997. Some of the better players in the area wanted the parent owners, the Gremio Lusitano Club, to turn pro and thought I would never pull the trigger on the deal. I won the bet!
What were some memorable moments since the Pioneers began in 1998?
CC: There have been many. To name a few: Hosting and winning the D3 National Championship in 1998 in front of about 5,000 fans, hosting the Chicago Fire in US Open Cup play, hosting the great Sporting Club of Portugal in an exhibition match in 2004, and again, hosting the USL D2 Pro Championship in 2005, this time, however, losing in a dramatic shootout against a great Charlotte Eagles team.
Will the Pioneers ever move to the NASL or up the USL ladder beyond PDL?
CC: Our goal is always to play at the highest level we can, within reasonable economic means of course. We’ll look at the landscape from year to year, [and] then decide where we need to be.
If the USL allowed ethnic names for clubs, would you change the name? If so, to what?
CC: Not sure, but the Pioneers name has settled in here in the area.
Are most of the fans of the Pioneers of Portuguese ancestry?
CC: The Pioneers have a very diverse fan base. I think many, maybe not most, are of Portuguese ancestry. But our following is made up of many great groups of people.
What club in Portugal do you support?
CC: My favorite is Sporting [Lisbon]!
Do you have a good relationship with Francisco Marcos the Portuguese founder of the USL?
CC: Yes, we have been part of his league since 1998 and a big supporter also. He saw first-hand the great atmosphere here at Lusitano Stadium by attending the 1998 D3 Championship game.
What can American soccer learn from Portuguese soccer?
CC: Training habits, especially the kids. It’s a bit more serious for the kids back in Portugal.
Would you like to see promotion and relegation in the USL (United Soccer Leagues) or in the American soccer pyramid leading up to the MLS?
CC: That would be the optimal way to operate if American soccer clubs had the financial reserves to be able to survive if promoted. Most do not.
Do you watch MLS regularly? Which clubs are you most impressed with?
CC: I’ll catch a game here and there on TV. The Revolution are right down the road, so going to watch an MLS game isn’t that difficult either. They have had some really good teams over the years with some exciting players to watch, especially when they went to the finals.
WM Pioneers are almost as old as the New England Revolution. How would you describe your relationship with the club over the years?
CC: Our relationship with the Revs has been great. We’ve had the opportunity to scrimmage them on occasion, host them for a Jimmy Fund Charity game, and even had player loan deals with them when [we] were in the pro league.
Is there a player deal or marketing affiliation between the Revs and Pioneers?
CC: Moving into this spring and beyond, we’ll be working with them on the youth level trying to get our best young players a chance to join their Academy program for maximum exposure.
Which PDL club would you consider to be the chief rival of the Pioneers? Why?
CC: With the resurgence of the Connecticut PDL franchise, this could be our biggest rival. They are close in proximity to us and some of their players have played with us in years past. When they were the Conn. Wolves we had some fantastic games with them.
Do you feel great rivalries are a key to soccer’s growth in the USA?
CC: Sure, just like in any sport. If it catches the fans attention and brings them to the park, it surely doesn’t hurt.
What league worldwide plays the most entertaining style of club soccer?
CC: Spain or England would be my guess. Great talent, superb athletes in both leagues makes for entertaining soccer to watch.
Do you encourage your coaches to coach to entertain fans and play attacking soccer?
CC: We always try to put the best team on the field to play here at Lusitano Stadium. Most of our fans know the game and tactics and we try to give them an exciting team to watch.
Would you fire a coach if he won matches, but forced the team to play too aggressive or physical?
CC: We always play to win but within the rules of the game. Playing aggressive and physical is part of the game, as long as it’s not your intent to injure anyone. We won’t have that here at the Pioneers.
Do the Pioneers have supporters groups?
CC: We’ve had many neat groups of supporters over the years. Depending on the make-up of the team, it varies a bit from season to season. Overall our fan support has been great for the Western Mass area.
It’s been said that Lusitano Stadium is the only Soccer Specific Stadium in New England. Is that still true?
CC: I believe we are still the only soccer specific stadium in New England.
What’s the atmosphere at Pioneers games like in-stadium? Do you encourage the fans to bring flags, tifos, banners, smoke and other supporter elements?
CC: It’s a fan friendly stadium. Most fans are within six to thirty feet of the playing field, so it gets real cozy and loud with a big crowd on hand.
Can Lusitano Stadium be expanded one day if you need more seats for fans?
CC: The stadium has room for some additional seating if we get to that point. The end zones are areas we have looked at for extra seating if needed.
What’s your take on the current state of American youth soccer development?
CC: We’re getting there. If we can get our best young athletes to take up the game and like it at an early age, and develop them, we’ll continue to get more and more competitive on the world stage.
How does the PDL improve a player’s game?
CC: The PDL gives the top college players and prospects a chance to play in an extremely high level league over the summer. After a summer of training and playing very competitive games, a player should be ready to return to his college in good form.
Is the PDL helping improve soccer in the USA?
CC: Without a doubt. It’s a top-notch amateur league that provides a great opportunity for players looking to get to the next level.
How would you change youth development in America?
CC: We’re on course right now for good players and teams down the road. Most of the best players are getting the best coaching and put in the best situations to be the best they can.
The Richmond Kickers were one of the last of the older minor league clubs to have a non-badge/shield logo, besides WM, and they revised theirs recently. The Pioneers logo hasn’t changed since its inception and looks dated. With almost all North American soccer clubs having since rebranded, any chance we can see a change? Why not allow the public and your fans to contribute ideas for a new logo, is that something the WM Pioneers could do?
CC: Our fans picked our first name back in 1997, so maybe we would have them pick a new logo if we go that route. We’ve discussed it actually!
How has American soccer culture grown in the last 15 years? How much further will it grow?
CC: I believe the soccer culture has grown with the amount of kids now playing. You see nearly every team from U8 on up with full uniforms and all the extras. The kids know all the best equipment and “what’s cool.” They also know all the better players in the world due to increased exposure from abroad. This has helped with their ability to watch many of the best players on the TV on a weekly basis. Twenty years ago it was different.
What issues face U.S. soccer today? What would you change about the game in the USA?
CC: The issues that face US soccer are simple: competition from other sports. American kids have many more athletic options than most of the rest of the world. And there is nothing wrong with that! Nothing needs to be changed within the game, we just have to continue to try to get the best athletes to play and like soccer.
What are your expectations of the Western Mass. Pioneers in the upcoming season?
CC: We would like to compete and have a chance to win every game. The roster is coming together with some talented guys. Head Coach Federico Molinari and his staff have been working hard to put together what looks like to be a playoff contending team.
Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
CC: Cristiano Ronaldo of course! He was with Sporting!