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Updated: August 7, 2020

Former soccer star, developer move the ball toward their goal: pro team in Portland

Portraits of Gabe Hoffman-Johnson and Johnson Culley File photos Gabe Hoffman-Johnson, left, and Jonathan Culley of USL to Portland.

A former Falmouth soccer star and a Portland developer may be nearing their goal of starting a professional team in Maine's largest city.

After raising an initial $500,000, soccer standout Gabe Hoffman-Johnson and Jonathan Culley of Redfern Properties LLC are now in talks with the city to find a site to build a stadium.

Hoffman-Johnson, managing director and president of Portland's Topsail Sports & Entertainment, was a two-time All-American and Maine state player of the year at Falmouth High School who went on to play at Dartmouth College, where he was captain. He played professionally for St. Louis FC before an injury prompted him to shift career gears.

Culley is a principal at Redfern Properties, which focuses on infill development and other "smart growth" projects, with an emphasis on mixed-use and multi-family development. While Culley didn't grow up with the sport, he said his three children all play and it's become a family passion. That includes watching televised games from England on weekends.

United by their love of soccer, Hoffman-Johnson and Culley are equally enthusiastic about getting a Portland team off the ground in League One of the Tampa-based United Soccer League. If they succeed, the team would join the likes of the Greenville (S.C.) Triumph SC, the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Red Wolves SC and Forward Madison (Wisc.) FC.

Launched in 2019, USL's League One aims to foster new teams in markets with strong local ownership groups, populations with broad-based diversity, a vibrant millennial and strong family base, strong corporate support and stadiums that properly showcase the sport for fans, partners and the public.

Photo of soccer players on field linking hands to celebrate a win
Courtesy / Greenville Triumph SC
The Greenville Triumph is among the teams in the United Soccer League's League One division.

Hoffman-Johnson and Culley believe Portland has all of that going for it, and are confident of being able to find a site to build a stadium.

"We're a great sports town, we have had a long history of successful sports franchises in town, and this kind of market scales well," Hoffman-Johnson told Mainebiz. "I'm a big believer in the power of sports and the beauty of sports in terms of unifying communities and bringing people together."

Hoffman-Johnson said he and Culley have spent the last six to eight months looking at potential locations for a stadium that have to meet very specific criteria.

Without disclosing details, Culley said the two are in discussions with the city about specific sites, adding: "We're optimistic."

Though Portland has not yet officially been awarded a franchise, United Soccer League spokesman Ryan Madden told Mainebiz it is just a matter of time.

"If things continue as they have been," he said, "it's a matter of when, not if."

With more than decade of bringing games to communities in the United States and Canada, the United Soccer League claims to be North America's fast-growing professional soccer organization.

Sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation, it oversees the USL Championship (U.S. Soccer Federation Division II), USL League One (Division III) and USL League Two (Pre-Professional).

In 2019, the average attendance for the USL League's seven independent clubs was 2,496.

Hoffman-Johnson is bullish on the league, and said it has "probably the largest growth potential of any professional sports league in the country." He also said that Portland's community, culture and young, diverse population all bode well for soccer taking off there in a big way.

When it comes to choosing a name for the future team, Hoffman-Johnson wants the public to be involved.

"It's kind of a fun community engagement piece," he said. He added that the goal is to have a team ready to play by 2022.

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August 27, 2021

I would drive over to support this club and I live in New Hampshire..

August 7, 2020

I had a bunch of phone calls with Peter Wilt trying to bring a team to Portland about 5 years ago, but he was pushing NASL and I’m glad that didn’t work out. Go with Dirigo FC, build a 5k seat stadium at Thompson’s Point, U-Shaped opened towards the bay. Perfect for soccer, concerts, and beer feats!

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