Tend The Farm Soccer: An Interview with OKC NASL’s Chris Taylor

Over the last few months, there’s been a lot of talk about the new soccer teams coming to Oklahoma City over the next couple of years. For me personally, I grew up playing soccer in small town rec-leagues, but I was never in an area that the sport was extremely huge, or really all that talked about. That’s changing locally now, and I am excited about that.

From the North American Soccer League, they’re bringing a franchise that is being headed up by businessman Tim McLaughlin. The NASL was founded in 2009 and was named the second tier United States soccer league soon after. Beginning with eight teams from the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, the league is looking to reach a mass expansion with three teams joining in 2014, and another two in 2015 of which one is Oklahoma City.

One of the first moves that McLaughlin and the NASL team made, was to bring in former MLS player and Oklahoma City native, Chris Taylor. “With the timing of my release in Portland, I thought that this was a great opportunity for me and this was a good match. I had high hopes for Oklahoma City’s plans for professional soccer and I wanted to create something special in OKC with something that the city has never seen, the highest level of professional soccer in Oklahoma City,” Chris explained. “It’s a sport that I’ve spent 20 years playing, and where better to get my start in sports business than my home state?”

A graduate from University of Tulsa with a major in Business Management, specializing in Entrepreneurship, he was an NSCAA Scholar All-American with the Golden Hurricanes’ in 2009, and part of their three-year run of winning Conference-USA conference championships in 2007, 08, and 09. Following his time in college, he then entered into the MLS Superdraft, where he was drafted in the second round with the 22nd pick by the Portland Timbers in their first season of play. After spending two seasons and part of a third with the Timbers organization, Taylor was released this past year, leading him back to Oklahoma City.

But with still another year before the NASL team begins playing, Taylor said that the organization hopes to establish a prominent brand, even before the team takes the pitch for the first time at Taft Stadium. “We want to create buzz among the non-soccer crowd, as well as reaching out to the ‘already soccer fans’ in OKC too.”

In a city that is already dominated by the Oklahoma City Thunder, as well as OU, OSU, TU, and other colleges, Taylor sees the allure of the soccer atmosphere as something that will set their team apart from the aforementioned groups. “The community as a whole has always been a college environment, and now there’s Thunder-nation. Once we have our first game, once things become tangible, we think people will realize that soccer is a different environment than OU, OSU, and the Thunder. The amount of passion in soccer in international play, or in Portland as I experienced, is truly incredible. Fans, when they come to games, will be able to experience something they never have before and be a part of it. Supporters groups are relevant and extremely passionate about the team and especially the game. We are going to bring an experience that will make people say ‘Wow, this is a part of my city,’ and maybe even join the supporters group.”

That’s just off the pitch. In the US Soccer pyramid, the NASL sits as the second-tier league below the MLS. “Fans can for sure expect players of international quality. People will see that this is a legit league, and will be something that kids coming up will definitely latch on to,” Taylor continued. “Someone like me would have needed to leave Oklahoma City to make a living playing professional soccer, but now there’s that team in Oklahoma City that can provide that living.”

Despite being a league of currently eight teams playing – and will be 13 by the time Oklahoma City begins playing – Taylor says there are already some tailor-made rivalries awaiting the team. “San Antonio has been itching to have someone closer that their fans can make trips to. I’ve heard of an I-35 rivalry with Minnesota even. You always look at the nearest teams. To be able to create rivalries is a great thing for the game as it helps grow with the fans and the crowds. It provides fans an influential outcome of the game.”

As the team begins to build its strategy over the next year, they have an example already of what route to follow in the Indy Eleven. Indy begins play next year and Taylor says they have already paved a trail for the Oklahoma City team to follow. “They’ve been able to secure 6,500 season tickets and that is absolutely incredible for a city that has two professional sports teams, and one of those being arguably the most popular sport in football. They’ve been able to reach out and grab the fans. With the passion they have, they’ve done a fantastic job to this point. That’s a group we’d like to emulate. It’s a different community, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tailor it to Oklahoma City.”

Taylor also mentioned the closer market in San Antonio: “San Antonio has their own stadium that is absolutely fabulous. It’s a great soccer environment and the attendance will grow as the NASL continues to grow. They’ve been able to find the niche and grow it into something that you almost can’t call a niche anymore.” San Antonio’s attendance dipped below six-thousand people only once during the fall season, averaging 6763 over the course of seven home games.

At only the age of 24, Taylor doesn’t see this as a permanent move to the front office, however, and still sees himself playing in the future. “I’m 24, young, and in my prime. People ask me why I’m doing this now. In the professional landscape, life is dependent on having a good match, where every day is you’re competing for your job. It can be that you have a great game one week, and then three weeks later be on the bench.

“To be able to have some normalcy, lay some roots, it’s a nice thing to be a part of. However, there’s nothing better than walking out with your teammates and walking out of that tunnel to the crowd’s roar. I’m still training, but I look at this as a way to get business experience in a field that I know and love. I would have been a little disappointed to not be a part of this in Oklahoma City.” And Taylor means that literally. “I want to be a part of history in Oklahoma City, and I’m hoping to suit up and be a part of the team on opening night.”