Among the professional soccer cities across the U.S., Greenville might be the unlikeliest of the lot.
With only 70,000 residents, the city is the second smallest among any of the top professional leagues in the U.S.
So why is soccer thriving in the upstate region of South Carolina?
Did you know: Despite its size, Greenville regularly ranks among the top cities for international soccer viewership.
“Greenville has always been a great sports town,” shared Andrew Phillips, President of the Reedy River Riot supporters group. “But we also wanted to have something of our own.”
Until the Greenville Triumph came to town, fans would regularly opt for one of two main options to watch professional soccer in-person – drive two hours north to Charlotte or two hours south to Atlanta. Those who preferred to stay closer to home would frequently pack into bars and living rooms to watch their favorite teams on the television.
That all changed in 2017 when rumors started swirling that United Soccer League (USL) executives were thinking about Greenville as a candidate for a new expansion team. Local fans got wind of this and knew they needed to do something that would tip the scales in their favor.
Putting their heads together, Andrew and some friends decided to create a “Bring Professional Soccer to Greenville” petition on Change.org. To add to the effect, they also set up the petition so that every time a new batch of 25 signatures came in, an automatic email was sent to the USL headquarters.
Or at least that was the plan at first.
Word about the petition spread fast. Within days, hundreds upon hundreds of residents had signed on. As the story goes, the USL front office reached out to Andrew to let him know they were getting too many emails. They asked if he could slow it down.
Clearly excited, Andrew obliged and changed the cadence of to once-every- 100 signatures. But the supporters kept on coming.
“That petition galvanized the soccer community in Greenville,” explained Andrew.
From that moment, Greenville’s soccer fandom was on the map and a USL team became inevitable.
As the clock ticks closer to game time, the Reedy River Riot supporters group is gathering outside the Greenville Triumph locker room.
New COVID-19 protocols have forced the supporters group to alter some of the pregame traditions, but these diehard fans are still finding ways to give the players an extra boost.
The group has formed a tunnel path along the walkway outside. Young girls take turns holding a Greenville Triumph scarf high in the air. Members of the Reedy River Riot waves flags and pound drums (errr, beers). The crowd eagerly awaits the players.
A couple of times, the door to the locker room cracks open, only to slam shut again with no players in sight. The anticipation is building.
Finally, when the Triumph players do walk out, they are greeted with a loud roar from the hundred or so fans that have lined up on either side of the pathway. Game on.
Named for the river that runs through downtown Greenville, the Reedy River Riot is a supporters group that brings the local soccer community together in a way that nothing else in the region has.
Most of its members have played the sport or supported a team in some form, but very few knew each other before the inaugural season in 2019.
“Every form and fashion of soccer in Greenville creates connections that has a ripple effect on the Reedy River Riot,” shared Lauren Lintz Duggan. “You meet people on an intramural soccer team, you meet people at a bar for an international match, there is a good chance they are part of the Reedy River Riot. And if they aren’t, they probably will be soon.”
In many ways, the team has become a magnet for the soccer-loving community. The Reedy River Riot pulls in fans from all over and the three stars on the group’s logo represent the counties that surround the region – Greenville, Spartanburg, and Anderson.
“You need to be in Section 110”
As the players take the field and the match against Fort Lauderdale CF is set to begin, the Reedy River Riot supporters are still making their way over to the east end standing section. A handful of fans are introducing themselves to the Fort Lauderdale goalkeeper, as Andrew and company start the first chant of the evening.
Onward Greenville Triumph… Onward Greenville Triumph… I’m 8-6-4 for Life
Around the stadium, you can see fans young and old taking cues from the noise coming from the Reedy River Riot.
“When you’re inside Triumph Stadium, there’s no better place to be than Section 110,” shared Joe Bright, one of the Reedy River Riot board members.
For 90 minutes, the passionate supporters in Section 110 do everything they can to will their team to victory. Unfortunately, this late-season match offers very few opportunities for either side. That is, until a stroke of luck changes things entirely.
As the game goes into stoppage time, Fort Lauderdale scores the only goal of the night. An own goal.
The home team has taken the lead 1-0 and Section 110 is immediately enveloped by green and blue smoke. Fans jump into each others’ arms and anyone who hasn’t finished their beer tosses the final traces high into the air.
Greenville has triumphed once again (sorry, had to do it) and it’s another big win in what is becoming a regular occurrence at home.
As fans trickle out of the stadium, I can’t help but think of the people who signed that petition in 2017. How many were at the match tonight? Did they imagine endings like this?
In just three short years, the small city of Greenville has become a force in USL soccer and the Reedy River Riot is a big reason why professional soccer continues to thrive in the south.