GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Bringing a soccer team to the Upstate didn’t happen overnight. In fact it took years of research and development, but it started with one man’s passion for the sport.
Before he was standing in front of fans to announce the new USL League One team, Triumph majority owner Joe Erwin had developed a love for the sport while playing for the first ever soccer team at Eastside High School in Taylors.
“I learned that lesson of what diversity could mean in anything, but particularly in sports,” he said, speaking of his senior-year team that almost won a state title.
Erwin went on to attend Clemson University, and got his start in the advertising business. He moved to New York CIty, where he and his eventual wife Gretchen worked at competing agencies.
“We were competitive a little bit. But that’s the way our whole relationship has been built for all these years together. She’s a Georgia Bulldog, I’m a Clemson Tiger.”
That drive compelled the Erwins to move back to the Upstate and start their own agency. And after building a successful company over 30 years, the entrepreneur longed for a different opportunity.
“I was looking for something that my heart could latch onto.”
As if predetermined by fate, a chance to delve into a passion for soccer formed in high school came as the USL was looking to expand with a new league.
“I called them and said ‘have you found anybody to take the plunge into being an owner, because it’s not an inexpensive proposition,’ and they said ‘no we haven’t.’ And I said ‘you might have and you’re talking to him’…This is a soccer market that was waiting to explode.”
After securing the team, it now needed a name. A name inspired by the resilience of a community that was hit hard when the textile business left town.
“It’s an amazing story of resurgence. We think it’s a story of triumph.”
Erwin then set his sights on a head coach. John Harkes fit the bill, but for more reasons than just his pedigree.
“His values lined up so much with those of our leadership.”
And the community responded immediately.
“The fans have been utterly amazing. They turned out from day one, you know sellouts from the very beginning.”
With a brand new team in a new league facing MLS owned clubs, the Triumph started at a disadvantage. But just a few seasons in they’ve already secured a championship. And Erwin says their work has only just begun.
“We think we’re just scratching the surface, we really do. So there’s a lot more to come out of this organization and this team.”
Keeping that competitive spirit alive, flowing from the ownership to the team and reflected in the community for which it plays.