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Updated: October 16, 2023 On the record

On the Record: ‘Soccer equals joy’ for founder and president of Portland pro men’s squad

Photo / Jim Neuger Gabe Hoffman-Johnson is the founder and president of the USL to Portland pro men’s soccer team, which aims to kick off its first season at Fitzpatrick Stadium in 2025. The team’s name will be determined with community input.

Gabe Hoffman-Johnson, a former high school, college and pro soccer star, teamed up with developers Jonathan and Catherine Culley of Redfern Properties LLC and sports broadcaster Tom Caron to launch a professional men’s soccer team in Maine’s biggest city. The team will play in the USL League One starting in 2025.

Mainebiz: What attracted you to soccer in the first place?

Gabe Hoffman-Johnson: My dad was a college soccer coach, so I grew up on soccer fields and always had a ball at my feet. For me, soccer equals joy, and when I play the rest of the world falls away. I love the camaraderie, the competition, the tactical complexities and the simple beauty. To this day, a crisp fall day still smells like soccer to me.

MB: What did you learn from your first pro soccer experience that was cut short by injury?

GH-J: Losing something that seems like such a huge part of your identity or purpose forces you to re-examine who you actually are. I have been grateful to realize and breathe life into the other areas that make me, me. I truly believe I’m a better person for it. And if I’d kept playing, who knows if pro soccer would be coming to Portland?

MB: What inspired the idea to bring professional soccer to Portland, and why now?

GH-J: My youth was shaped by a passion for ‘the beautiful game’ and for uplifting others through community building. My mother is a former college professor, but her later work in international peacebuilding had a more direct impact on me. When I was in high school, she began grassroots reconciliation work in Sierra Leone. Witnessing the selfless commitment toward making a positive impact in the world impacted who I am and what drives me. I’ve made multiple trips to Sierra Leone myself, always with as many soccer balls, jerseys and cleats as I could get donated.

Back home, I used soccer as a platform to educate youth on global issues and how to work toward a future where there is no place for hate. In 2019, I moved back to Maine, leaving a finance job in New York City, and was searching for what comes next. When the United Soccer League announced the creation of USL League One, I had a bit of an ‘Aha’ moment. Portland is an incredible place [but] what it doesn’t have is something that unifies the ever-growing mosaic of Portland’s communities, the entire collective. What better way to do this than through the largest global common language of soccer.

MB: What kind of financing does it take to launch a pro soccer team?

GH-J: Launching a team requires a franchise fee, startup and diligence period expenses, transaction costs, stadium project improvements, as well as funding initial operating losses and operating capital and reserve. Having raised an initial friends and family angel round of financing to cover early-stage stadium diligence and operating costs, we completed subsequent raises as the project passed key milestones. We are well-capitalized now with a great group of committed owners, yet still with some potential for growth ahead of kickoff in 2025.

MB: How will you go about choosing a team name, crest and colors?

GH-J: We’ve already begun enlisting participation from the community through town halls, questionnaires and focus groups. Our team will digest all that we learn and work with a designer to create the club’s visual identity while continuing to include our fans along the way.

MB: What sponsorship opportunities are available for Maine businesses?

GH-J: The club will have corporate partners as any pro team does, and we have exciting conversations already under way. This team will represent Portland and Maine nationally and globally, offering a unique platform to reach a highly engaged audience. The jersey or ‘kit’ partner is probably the most exciting high-impact asset, since in soccer the brand partner becomes almost synonymous with the club.

MB: Any long-term plans to build a stadium for the team?

GH-J: It’s certainly possible but not under consideration now. We’ve spent the last year and a half working with the city of Portland to finalize a non-exclusive lease agreement to play at Fitzpatrick Stadium, so our focus is squarely there.

MB: Is there a place for professional women’s soccer in Maine?

GH-J: Definitely. The United Soccer League recently announced the USL Super League, a professional women’s league with eight clubs set to kick off in 2024 and five more to follow in 2025. I envision a time when Maine is home to a women’s pro team as well, and we’ve begun early-stage dialogue on the possibility, but no concrete plans have been agreed upon just yet.

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