Tonight on Night Water, I’m trying something brand new: an audio version of the newsletter. Joining me for this inaugural effort is Patrick Infurna, co-founder of the brand new men’s soccer team Vermont Green Football Club.
You may remember Patrick from prior Night Water posts where I asked him about his Animal Crossing island and what he remembered from the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Him. Patrick has worked in soccer essentially his entire career, and in this interview, we learn all about Vermont Green FC, the landscape of American soccer, and Patrick’s ideal late night vibes.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
ADAM CECIL: Patrick Infurna, welcome to the inaugural Night Water audio companion podcast show, whatever it might be called in the future. Thanks for joining.
PATRICK INFURNA: Definitely. Thank you for having me. I'm a big Night Water fan. Everyone knows this.
AC: Can I ask, straight up, who are you and what is your deal?
PI: My name is Patrick Infurna. I am a co-founder of Vermont Green Football Club. I think that's the most relevant thing about me at this current moment. I live in Burlington, Vermont, and you and I went to middle school together.
AC: We also went to high school together. Don't sell it short.
PI: Yeah, and we've been in a group chat together for like 20 years, so.
AC: Can you tell me, what is Vermont Green Football Club?
PI: Yeah. So Vermont Green Football Club is a, we're calling it pre-professional, soccer team launching in May of 2022 in USL's League Two, in the fourth tier of American soccer. Pre-professional is the term used because the players that will be playing for the team are going to be primarily, not all, but primarily collegiate NCAA eligible players that are playing in a sanctioned off-season. For anyone who might not know, these NCAA players can't play professionally in their off-season, 'cause it would mess with their NCAA eligibility. So that's mostly where we're at. It's players that are either collegiate or even younger. We have the intention of working with some local high school players that want to continue their development in what is their school off-season on a path to eventually professional contracts, wherever that may be.
So Vermont Green is a team that was co-founded by myself and a few friends. We're playing in Burlington, Vermont at University of Vermont's Virtue Field. It's their soccer stadium, really nice, constantly updating stadium, awesome facility. And what else? I mean on top of being a sporting entity, maybe even more importantly, we're trying to be a staple member of the Vermont community. And we are prioritizing environmental sustainability and environmental justice into all of our club operations and club culture. And that's gonna be a massive part of our identity going forward. You know, it's not gonna just be a sports team that fields 11 players and tries to win trophies. You know, we're gonna certainly do that, but also we're gonna try to have a lasting impact where we play and try to have a lasting influence on the greater U.S. and international soccer community.
AC: How did you end up getting involved and where did the idea for this team percolate?
PI: Yeah, so me personally, I got a call, I guess, geez, what year is it? 2021. Summer of 2020—I got a call from an old colleague of mine named Burke who said he needed to connect me with a fellow named Matthew Wolf who had this idea of starting a pre-professional, eventually maybe professional, soccer team in Burlington, Vermont. Matt is a pretty well-known and very well-accomplished—although he's a very humble guy, he wouldn't describe himself in the same way—but very well-accomplished graphic designer and artist. He's done work with Nike. He's done work with the Nigerian national team, plenty of U.S. soccer, Major League Soccer, USL clubs, really talented guy. And I was connected with him and he had this bigger idea with him and a few of his friends, that are all now my friends, to start this club. And it's been, I guess it was 18 months between when they conjured up the idea and when we officially launched on October 12th. You know, we're really looking forward to 2022. And it's, in the context that we're in with time, it is fast approaching and really just around the corner.
AC: What does it actually mean to build a football club? Like, especially here in the United States where, I think you alluded to this a little bit, you're building in, you know, when you say the fourth tier of American soccer, a lot of people don't even realize there's more than one tier of American soccer. So really curious, to you, what does that mean? How are you getting involved in the community, how do you build that brand when it's in this landscape?
PI: Well, firstly, maybe this is like a cliché to say, but it's so much of a learn as you go type of thing. We've got really talented folks behind the scenes in the group of co-founders, with experience from all over the soccer industry, be it media, be it in partnerships. All of these really well-connected guys that are still, all of us, we're all very much being like, okay, every day is a learning experience because soccer, in general, is kind of a blank canvas for a lot of people in this country, and for us specifically here in Burlington and in the state of Vermont, which is in my opinion, and maybe you would agree, a relatively entertainment starved area.
I think that, you know, Burlington has the Minor League Baseball Lake Monsters, and there's a Minor League Baseball team in Montpelier, but as far as sports entertainment goes there really isn't much outside of collegiate. UVM is great Division One sports across the board. It's really awesome. Obviously, I like spectating there as well, but you know, there's nothing that isn't collegiate. So we are just excited to have this kind of double-edged blank canvas of U.S. soccer in general, but also right here in the Vermont market, to kind of, I don't know, come up with this new idea. Like I said, we're all very experienced in kind of the business and the media of U.S. soccer, but none of us ever built a club.
Well, I guess that's not totally true. Colin’s worked on—one of our members has worked on LAFC and built that from scratch, but in this kind of territory where there's no primary millionaire/billionaire owner, it's all coming out of our minds and seeing how we can do things differently. And I think that's kind of the big idea here. There's division four clubs everywhere. USL League Two, I'll give you a little background on that. It's a pre-professional league. There's teams all over. They compete in regional formats, but a lot of them are connected to youth teams and things like that. So what we're trying to do is, we wanna build a pre-professional club with a professional mindset. We wanna take ourselves very seriously. We wanna take our mission very seriously. And we wanna, like I said earlier, we wanna become a staple in the community here. And that involves, you know, working with the local soccer leagues, that involves working with the environmental justice and environmental activist groups here in Vermont, and building a platform for all these ideas to come together through soccer.
AC: You guys have a lot of language about environmental justice; Vermont Green, the green part of it being environmentally conscious. I know with all your merch as well. In what ways are you taking that mission and making it a core part of the way your club operates?
PI: The initial way, like you said, is really in the merchandise. We have a Chief Purpose Officer by the name of Keil Corey who is a very accomplished environmental sustainability consultant who is really guiding us through making sure we hold ourselves, again, to a really high standard with the merch. It's all either recyclable or otherwise sustainably sourced gear, most of it's from a brand called Recover. But we really are trying to make sure that we promote this environmental sustainability message, but also this optimistic approach to the current climate of these issues. We have big, big goals of trying to do our merchandise differently, whether that's in how it's created, how it's packed, how it's shipped, how, down the line, if we could do something circular where people are returning their merchandise in exchange for new merchandise in this way.
But yeah, I think it's mostly just about building a club that, and this kind of goes into the idea that we're building something very Vermont focused. We're in a place where there's so much infrastructure built for this kind of environmental sustainability approach to everything. Our initial approach to this environmentally sustainable football club is something that we, you know, I think that we very much consider ourselves in the vanguard of sports organizations starting to be more conscious in this way. And we hope that doing it at this level, at a relatively small operation to start in division four, we can find out the things we need to find out, make the mistakes we need to make, that we can lead the way and hopefully advise other clubs, be it in soccer and USL, or even more broadly in sports in general, to start rethinking how they operate and where are they wasting and where are they having a negative impact on the environment. This is all, like I said, this environmentally optimistic kind of standpoint, we wanna encourage ourselves, and therefore everyone around us to try to be that much better, so that we can all improve. And it's not about the doomsday mentality of like, this is where we need to be by this point or we're all going to die. It's like, how can we all make sure we spend that little bit of extra energy and that little bit of extra time to be better for ourselves, for the environment, and for the entire planet's future.
AC: You're in Vermont. Curious, if someone reading this or listening to this is in Vermont, how can they get involved, help out?
PI: Yeah, I mean, I think firstly anyone that's in Vermont or not in Vermont that is interested in the project, that's interested in coming to games, interested in getting merch or whatever it may be, contact us through any of our social media platforms or sign up on the website to be on our email list. And you can contact the club account email@example.com. We are, like I said earlier, we are listening and speaking to anyone that wants to because we need to get as many people involved as possible; prioritizing Vermonters right here in our backyard. But again, this is a project that is based here in Burlington, based here in the state of Vermont, but we want it to have international appeal, international interest. So just reach out.
There's going to be, once 2022 hits, it's gonna be all hands on deck and it's just gonna get really crazy, really quick. I think we've got technical staff, coaches being announced in the coming weeks and months. We've still got apparel, like team apparel to be announced. We've got jerseys coming down the line, we've got more merchandise, we've got more initiatives here in our local area. And it's just gonna be, again, anyone that wants to contribute, anyone that wants to be a part is more than welcome to reach out. And more than likely, we'll have a way that we can collaborate. And that's the fun part of all this, you know, it's lower division to start, but like I said, we're treating this as a very serious, very professional entity and we wanna make sure it reflects the community in the best way possible.
AC: Have you signed anybody?
PI: No one signed yet, but we are going to have a lot on the sporting end coming out late 2021 and a lot in early 2022. And we're very excited about, I should say this. We're very excited about the player pool that exists in Vermont. I think because of the lack of semi-professional and professional clubs, you know, you have Montreal and you have New England and you have New York, but this is kind of an isolated area. There's a lot of talented players, a lot of very quality youth clubs. And I think we're going to be able to do some really cool things with a good portion of local homegrown Vermont players. And that's another big part of this that I didn't even really touch on.
Vermont is a soccer state. Burlington is a soccer city. Chittenden county is a soccer county. There's a lot of soccer being played. There are people from all over the world, all bringing their own personal approach to the game. And I think Vermont Green can be a medium for all of that. And I think we can develop our own unique style of football amongst everything else that we wanna do in the community, everything we wanna do as a club off the pitch. I really, I can't state enough how excited I am for what we can possibly do on the field. I think there's a, for me personally, I've always been in the culture side of the game. I was never a good player. I've been around soccer and that's where I thrive. So that's kind of where my head is, but I'm finding even now my own newfound appreciation for the sport itself, just based on what we can build here with Vermont players. And I think that's a very cool thing. And another privilege that I feel we have as a club, to serve the community by giving a platform for our own local players.
AC: A lot of people don't think of Vermont as particularly diverse or bringing in people from outside of the state, and that is pretty true all around. But, to your point, there's a lot of colleges, a lot of college-level ball being played. And then in Burlington, the largest metropolitan, really the only metropolitan area in Vermont, there's a lot of immigrants, a lot of people coming from outside the state, outside the country. And that feels like a really great place, a really great backyard for this team.
PI: Definitely. And to add to that, you know, I coached middle school soccer this fall in Burlington's New North End. And it was both a pleasure to do so, 'cause it was fun to work with the kids and have that experience, but also just to get another kind of angle and look at the thirst for the game here, be it from kids, you know, born here in Burlington, kids born all over the globe, there's a unity that comes with this game and it's almost a cliché at this point, but it really does bring people together and I'm really interested and encouraged and I can't wait to see the kind of the ways that manifests at the level that Vermont Green wants to be playing at. And that's both on the pitch and in the stands, I think really capturing the spirit of Vermont. And like you said, I think people don't always really associate Vermont with that type of diversity and that type of makeup. And I think people will be as excited as we are to see that kind of manifest within our club.
AC: I was just gonna ask, unrelated to VGFC. What’s your ideal kind of late night vibe?
PI: My ideal late night vibe... my ideal late night vibe is just being in a room full of people that I dig and wanna be around, listening to music, chilling, talking about whatever, and eventually falling asleep. Maybe a fun drink, maybe a nice pizza.
AC: What's a fun drink to you, just to clarify for the listeners who might jump to conclusions.
PI: Geez. A fun drink. Non-alcoholic. Maybe like an iced mate. Maybe just, straight up, cold water. Maybe if I'm really feeling reckless, like a vanilla Coca-Cola, also known as Vanilla Coke.
AC: That's all good. I mean, I fully support a nice glass of cold water at night. Well, Patrick, thank you for joining the Night Water audio whatever this is. And we wish you and Vermont Green FC the most success.
PI: Thank you so much, Adam. Pleasure to be here. Can't wait to read this and maybe listen to it if you edit all my bogusness. And I will continue to have a five-star Night Water opening rating, and so should the listeners.
Today’s theme song was “Sweaty Wizards” by Night Viking, courtesy Free Music Archive.