Major League Soccer great Kyle Beckerman helping to bring amateur franchise to Annapolis – Capital Gazette

Kyle Beckerman, the greatest soccer player to ever emerge from Anne Arundel County, is helping bring an amateur franchise to the greater Annapolis area.

Beckerman will be one of three owners of a National Premier Soccer League club that will start playing in the summer of 2023.

Locating an NPSL franchise in Annapolis was the brainchild of Michael Hitchcock, who will be the owner and serve as managing partner. Hitchcock is a founding partner of Playbook Management International and has been an active owner of five NPSL teams – Appalachian FC, Denton Diablos FC, Fort Worth Vaqueros, Napa Valley 1839 FC and Lubbock Matadors.

Hitchcock recruited Beckerman to the ownership group, knowing he had strong ties to the region.

Beckerman, who grew up in Crofton, has a 21-year professional career in Major League Soccer. He retired in December 2020 after a remarkable run highlighted by a World Cup appearance with the USA men’s national team and winning an MLS Cup as Real Salt Lake captain.

“I thought Annapolis would be a great place for an NPSL franchise, and the more I heard about the proposal, the more I wanted to be involved,” Beckerman said in a phone interview with The Capital over the weekend.

“I’m sure it will be another great team for Maryland fans to stand behind and enjoy. I know it will be a team that inspires the next generation of local kids who dream of playing football at the highest level.”

Beckerman said if such a squad had existed when he was a football-loving boy living in Crofton he would have attended games. “If I was 12 and had this team right in my backyard, that would be really cool,” he said.

Beckerman is widely recognized as one of the finest defensive midfielders in MLS history, a nine-time All-Star and the league’s all-time leader in games played (498), games started (461) and minutes played (41,164). In 2020, he was named one of the 25 greatest players in MLS history at an anniversary celebration.

Beckerman, who is now the head coach at Utah Valley University, sees part-time involvement with a team in a developmental league like the NPSL as a way to build on the game he loves so much.

“It’s another avenue for football players who want to take their games to the next level,” said Beckerman, who was inducted into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame in October 2021.

The National Premier Soccer League is all amateur and made up mostly of college-aged players. It is affiliated with the United States Adult Soccer Association and is a preferred destination for Division I standards looking to stay sharp during the summer months.

Based in northern Anne Arundel County, Christos FC has fielded an NPSL team for years. Former University of Maryland All-American Ben Bender, the #1 overall pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft, played for Christos while he was in college.

Christos FC recently promoted their most competitive club to Division 2 of the United Soccer League (USL), which is semi-professional and two tiers below MLS.

Originally based in the western part of the country, the NPSL has grown to have teams in 29 different states.

The Annapolis franchise will be part of the Mid-Atlantic Conference, which consists of franchises based in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. Annapolis becomes the seventh member of the Mid-Atlantic Conference, joining the Alexandria Reds, Frederick FC, First State FC, Grove Soccer United, Northern Virginia United and Virginia Beach City FC.

“NPSL is excited to enter this market,” said Managing Director Cindy Spera. “Annapolis has many of the attributes that indicate a successful grassroots football market: a community of sports enthusiasts, multiple college campuses and an abundance of family businesses.”

Through Playbook Management International, Hitchcock has successfully advised and managed over 85 soccer leagues, teams, facilities and events in the United States and around the world. He successfully initiated the rebirth of the San Antonio Scorpions, consulted on the rebirth of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and worked extensively in MLS from entry-level ticket sales to general manager of FC Dallas.

“We’re excited to bring minor league football to Annapolis in a meaningful way,” said Hitchcock. “We want to provide opportunities for local players to achieve their dreams of competing at the highest level while developing the next generation of sports management leaders.”

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Alex Yi, who was a 2000 Parade All-American while playing for McDonogh and played collegiately at UCLA, will be the third owner of the Annapolis franchise. Yi, who played football with Beckerman for FC Potomac, started his professional career with Antwerp FC in Belgium’s Jupiter League – a feeder club for Manchester United.

Yi, who grew up in Easton, joined FC Dallas in 2005 and spent three seasons with the club as a defender.

Local soccer fans are allowed to choose the Annapolis NPSL franchise name and logo from four brands. Fans can vote online throughout the summer at www.annapolissoccer.com. Those who vote by July 25 will be entered into a raffle where 11 fans will be selected to receive free season tickets for 2023, which runs from May to August. A fan wins a free season seat for life.

Once the team name is in place, Beckerman said the next task will be to hire a coaching staff to begin identifying the players. Outstanding peers from Maryland and the surrounding states will likely make up most of the list.

However, Beckerman said professional soccer players who are recovering from an injury or otherwise making a comeback can apply to US Soccer to have their amateur status restored in order to play in the NPSL.

Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium would be an ideal venue for the Annapolis franchise, Beckerman acknowledged. An announcement of where the team will play their home games should come sometime this summer.

“I think it’s pretty cool that the city of Annapolis now has its own soccer team,” Beckerman said. “For the local fans, we want to create a family atmosphere that is fun and affordable.”

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