South Bend awarded USL team

SOUTH BEND — A new expansion franchise has been awarded to South Bend by the United Soccer League (USL).

The team will be called South Bend Lions Football Club and will compete in USL League Two in 2020, the country’s top pre-professional men’s soccer league.

Thanks to the collaboration of the leading local youth programs, the Jr Irish Soccer, Indiana Invaders, Elkhart County United and Michiana Echo, the Lions have already kicked off preparations for their inaugural season by holding tryouts for a new U-18 program which will provide a pathway for local youth players.

South Bend Lions will become the second USL club in the state of Indiana – after Indy Eleven joined the USL Championship in 2018 – and the new franchise will play in the Great Lakes Division of the USL League.

The community–focused club has been driven forward this year by a local group of soccer enthusiasts headed by respected coach Thiago Pinto – who will be the club’s technical director – soccer marketing and communications consultant Chris Rivett and the club’s owner and principal investor Ritchie Jeune.

“We would like to thank the kind people of South Bend who have made Chris and I feel welcome from the moment we first visited,” Jeune said. “We have been grateful for the passionate backing of the soccer community and the dedicated support of the city officials since we arrived in May to begin assessing the way forward.

“I would also like to thank the team at USL and notably Joel Nash [Vice President of USL League Two] and Justin Papadakis [USL Chief Operating Officer] for their help in progressing conversations to get us to this point within six months.

“We still have a lot of work to do to be ready for first kick in 2020, but we’re looking forward to the challenge and the fun that lies ahead. It’s our objective to establish a club playing at the highest level that the community can support and we welcome everyone to be a part of our adventure.”

In joining USL League Two, the South Bend Lions Football Club will offer a proven pathway to professional soccer for its players, both those at the elite collegiate level and the leading academy-age players from the region. On top of the valuable experience of playing in the nation’s most competitive pre-professional environment, League Two also provides growth opportunities for its coaches, executives and communities.

“We are delighted to help provide soccer to the South Bend community along with such a high-quality ownership group. Vice President of USL League Two Joel Nash said. "We’re confident that the Lions will quickly become a fixture in the city and that they will make an excellent addition to our league.”

“South Bend has a proud sports tradition, from the South Bend Blue Sox to today's championship-winning South Bend Cubs,'' South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg said. "We look forward to welcoming and cheering on the South Bend Lions Football Club as they add to our history of sporting excellence.''

The team said they will announce soon where the home games will be played.

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