Hampstead versus Pittsburgh (or Cincinnati, or Charlotte...)
For over a decade, the Phantoms of New Hampshire roamed the state, playing professional soccer games at every high school from Keene to the coast with practically no fanfare. I myself have been saying for years, "I'd like to see them play some time this summer," but since no one even knows where their games are, nevermind when, actually seeing them was something of a pipe dream. Past internet time wasting sessions have shown that twice the Pantoms called real stadiums home, only for be evicted from Nashua's Holman Stadium and the recently razed Singer Family Park in Manchester, in favor of minor league baseball clubs. All this movement gave me the distinct impression that this team would be history when the United Soccer Leagues announced they were culling their weak franchises to make a slimmer, stronger, more marketable league. I was wrong.
Apparently, earlier this month, the Phantoms collected their belongings in Manchester (population 108,398) and decended upon tiny Hampstead (population 8,297... yes, that's over 100K less), with bags of money (I'm assuming we're talking about 7-digits worth here), bought the brand spanking new All-Around Sports Complex and it's 3 indoor soccer fields, not to mention it's other amenities, renamed it the PhanZone, and announced it was going to build a soccer-specific stadium on the site. This, ladies and gentlemen, is absolutely insane. Hampstead now has a professional sports franchise in the same league as franchises in the major cities listed in the title, and will compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which is a knockout tournament which includes all of the MLS clubs. With the shrinking of the USL, there are thirty professional soccer franchises left in the country, meaning, even assuming the MLS teams getting byes, and the Phantoms not advancing every year, it's a pretty good bet that the New England Revolution, DC United, MetroStars, or someone else, will be playing a big game in Hampstead in the next five years.
The craziest part? I'm relatively sure no one in the area even knows about it. This all happened 2 weeks ago, and I learned about it on a message board. My family lives in Sandown (population 5,143), one town to the north of Hampstead, and they haven't said anything to me, and I'm pretty sure if my mom had read about it in the paper, she would have called me immediately, knowing my enjoyment of all sports local and obscure. My girlfriend actually lives in Hampstead, and asks me almost daily about my SIMULATED soccer team (yes, I am that sick), yet she too, has said nothing about this.
More strangeness? The fact that the town north of Sandown, Fremont (population 3,510), is already building the largest (area-wise) soccer specific complex in the COUNTRY, to serve as the new home of Seacoast United, also a USL soccer club, but on the amateur level (think Cape Cod league). They too, will participate in the U.S. Open Cup. Once again, people in the area have hardly any awareness of this.
Let me explain what just happened, two infinitesimal New Hampshire towns just got franchises with apparently unlimited funds, brand new facilities, leagues with 'major-league caliber' city opponents, a mechanism to compete for the national championship, and thus be invited to play in regional competitions against the best teams in Mexico, Central America, the Carribean and beyond. These two teams will be situated a mere 10-15 minutes apart (think Liverpool-Arsenal, Rangers-Celtic, Chivas-Galaxy... or am I getting ahead of myself?). Yet the region is clueless as to even the fact that this money (millions) and entertainment is arriving. Unbelievable.
Labels: Phantoms of New Hampshire