Up to this point, any club that we’ve done a deep dive on has either never kicked a ball in NISA, or didn’t last for a whole season. New Amsterdam FC, to their credit, has played continuously in the league since their announcement. They started out with noble intentions: to give The Fussball Project, a consultancy that helps players go pro, a US avenue for uplifting players who might otherwise get overlooked, maybe even getting them into Europe. TFP had offices both in the US and overseas, but a full club partnership could be the missing component.
Or so the official story went at the beginning, anyway. TFP, whether by choice or necessity, were not the primary owners in NAFC. The primary owner was Laurence Girard, who had already been sponsoring a British team, which had not been enough to secure cooperation with TFP. So Laurence fronted the money to create New Amsterdam FC, with the logo incorporating design elements from The Fussball Project. One decent kit design later, and NAFC’s entry into NISA seemed like it could be an interesting expansion to the NISA club roster.
Unfortunately, with Laurence’s money came Laurence himself. NAFC would become interesting very quickly- but as an absurdist cautionary tale for why getting a PLS investor does not mean simply elevating your club’s vision, but can quickly distort it.
Who is Laurence Girard, anyway?
An excellent question! Formerly of the New York Red Bulls academy, Laurence was a goalkeeper whose career was derailed by injury. When that went awry, he made a successful pivot into tech health startups. His main current venture is Fruit Street Health, which is a telemedicine company for diabetes prevention. They appear to have a platform that tracks your health metrics and helps you make dietary adjustments to get on the right track.
I’m all for this idea, to be clear. I have multiple family members who have mild diabetes on account of us all being very midwestern. I was on the fast-track to go down the same path, until I woke up one day and decided that maybe diabetes and high cholesterol were actually very bad things, and I made lifestyle changes to get away from this.
Fruit Street has raised money in a few rounds, with one including a crowdfund from 300+ physicians that raised $17M. That’s right- actual doctors believe in Fruit Street’s mission enough that they put in roughly $50K, on average. That has the advantage of avoiding working with one or two vulture capitalists who might swoop in one day and demand a bunch of risky, bad changes in exchange for big returns. It also has the big advantage that it will probably be easier to not have a discussion around the fact that Fruit Street’s money was used to prop up at least two full professional soccer teams that have no fans to offset revenue.
You didn’t think I had just forgotten what this post was about so that I could gush about diabetes prevention for a few paragraphs did you? Fruit Street and NAFC (and to a lesser degree, Chicago House AC) have been intertwined for the entire time those clubs have been on the pitch so far. To most who followed NAFC, Fruit Street was known as the main NAFC shirt sponsor, for having advertising boards at NAFC and CHAC games alike, and for sponsoring the NAFC streams. What you may not have realized is that Fruit Street also bought a partial ownership in NAFC during Spring 2021. I have had my criticisms of many post-DCFC WeFunders for supporter ownership of clubs, but most of them have at least been transparent that you are buying into a soccer team. Canvassing doctors for their own money in the volatile tech startup world with promises to change healthcare, only to turn around and put it into your own soccer teams, is an entirely different kind of moral dilemma.
Fruit Street and New Amsterdam’s relationship was not confined solely to money, either. Fruit Street’s programs were made available to NAFC’s players and academy members, which was arguably a good thing. Tuition assistance was also made available as well as setting players up for careers at Fruit Street afterwards. It’s not clear on what terms tuition or careers were available, so it’s very difficult to judge what the value was of this. Without knowing those terms, it’s difficult to be certain how much this was just nice PR and player recruitment VS an actual advantage for the players.
This club wouldn’t even exist if I didn’t have a desire to play. And, I know a lot of you have seen me play well. And some of you have seen me play poorly. But, the club exists partially because I have a passion for soccer. And, I’m not going to quit soccer. I’m 29 years old. And I’m not the most fit player on the team but I have a passion for soccer. I have a desire to get fit and improve myself. -Leaked audio of Laurence Girard’s address to the team after the departure of head coach Jermaine Jones.
That was easy.
NAFC started play in the Fall 2020 season. Thanks to Girard’s policy of “I’m not going to quit soccer”, they finished in the Eastern Conference at the bottom of the table with zero points and a goal differential of -11 after a 4 game seeding tournament, with only one goal scored. All 8 teams were then seeded into the playoffs (COVID protocols, it was a weird time), where NAFC pulled together 1 point and raised their GD to -5. All told, they had allowed 21 goals in 7 games. Laurence Girard was not the goalkeeper the entire time, and the rest of the squad was not looking great. But then, teams that were founded and put into NISA always struggled in the standings while they found their sea legs. Most of those teams were not weighed down by putting an out-of-practice player into net, though.
It’s not shameful to Laurence that his soccer skills had degraded over time. He had been working on multiple tech startups and was focused on doing his job. That’s life. It’s great that he still wanted to play the sport he loved and had such high aspirations in once. But spending this much money on a quest to finally check “get minutes as a professional soccer player” off your bucket list might be a misuse of funds and betrayal of some of your business partners. I started life wanting to write the next big sci-fi epic and instead I write the worst soccer content known to mankind across four mediums. You can play beer league. We all adapt.
Some of us can adapt, anyway. These tweets have been deleted since, but in the last meeting between DCFC and NAFC, Laurence still put himself in net, allowing us to run away with a 6-1 victory. Good for City, right? 3 points, a big bump on GD, what’s not to love? More opponents making poor choices, we all cheered in the heat of the moment!
The problem is that this kind of thing makes its way around. In a recent episode of Protagonist’s podcast series, one of the commentators remarked on how NISA was known as “the league where the owner plays in net.” In theory, NISA should be co-equal with USL League One, as both are sanctioned as division 3 leagues. In practice? Let’s say you’re a scout and you’re evaluating talent with similar statlines across those two leagues. Whose numbers are you going to take more seriously when suggesting who to pick up at the transfer window?
Players know these kinds of dynamics well. And if they don’t, they’ll often have an agent who can explain it to them. If the money and conditions are equal between two sides but one team can offer you serious football that doesn’t include owners playing in net, which team would you choose to play for? You only have a scant few years to make a name for yourself and reach the highest level possible. Reputation and taking the competition seriously matters in this space.
A commonly suggested remedy was that NISA should ban owners from playing on the field. But not all owner-players in the game have been playing below their level like this. And besides, weren’t we all in NISA because we valued the league not having that kind of veto power over our clubs? We didn’t want to be in a situation where increasingly complicated roster rules were restricting teams from putting together the best roster they could envision because the league office had its own ideas of a league-wide strategy. And on top of that, Laurence’s statement seems to suggest that if he ever gives up playing, that it might be the end of his interest in running and paying for NAFC- a club loss that NISA can ill-afford during their growth phase.
NAFC is not a bottom of the barrel team anymore. They finished the Fall 2021 season in fourth place, edging out Chattanooga FC by a single goal in GD to break the tie. They’re on track to make the playoffs next year, and with a some smart football decisions, they have a realistic chance at winning the title in 2022. But one of those smart football decisions will be that Laurence Girard’s interest in soccer must be a love for running and owning a competitive team in NISA rather than giving himself playing time.
New Amsterdam: Civil War
How on earth do we know all of this with such certainty, though? Remember that Laurence (and through him, Fruit Street) was not the only investor into NAFC. The original plan for NAFC originated from The Fussball Project, who had also invested money and their own time into that club. We cannot say for certainty if that is where the leaks originated- but what is clear is that the fight got so bad that certain NAFC assets were repossessed by TFP for their future endeavors.
The original Twitter account for the team was @NAFCNY. One day a new handle appeared, @nafcnyc. Both accounts claimed to be the official NAFC Twitter. Both seemed to post official updates. The new one posted a few bad memes in response to people. Case closed- the new one must be a ripoff of my Twitter playbook, but against a team with an established and active social media presence. Stupid. It doesn’t matter how good you are- you have to pick a victim who isn’t doing their part correctly.
But then NISA declared that the new account was the official one. Nobody explained why there would need to be a new one, especially when the original one had a following of 2000+ followers and the new one barely cracked 100. It appeared that the operator of the original account had fallen into a dispute with the team and refused to hand over the credentials to it, necessitating the creation of a completely new account. Yet for whatever reason, they seemed to have an interest in continuing to provide the same quality of coverage they had before- the account didn’t immediately degrade, and if anything appeared to continue on more professionally than the new one was.
The smoking gun would not come until much later. In a series of now-deleted tweets, the original @NAFCNY account’s operator blacked out the profile picture and publicly disavowed NAFC, saying that it was now clear to the public why they had chosen to walk away. The account’s history was later wiped completely clean and repurposed as @TwoBridgesFC, the account for Two Bridges Football. A look at TBF’s page will confirm that members of The Fussball Project are now working with that club. By repurposing the @NAFCNY account for TBF, the new endeavor started with an immediate 2500 Twitter followers that had been built up over an 18 month period in New Amsterdam. Not a bad get, if you can do it.
Still not enough of a smoking gun for you? In May of 2020, I had outed “The Dutchies” as being a club-created supporters group account, which had been registered on Twitter using the New Amsterdam domain in its email. My Twitter account was locked out within a day of this revelation; worth it. Even this SG account was repurposed to be for Two Bridges. And if screenshots aren’t enough for you, here’s a link to the Twitter thread where that account was speaking in-character as an advocate for New Amsterdam before Two Bridges was ever founded: https://twitter.com/2bridgesfirm/status/1389641828236988420?s=20 Not all sockpuppets are assets.
The rest of this article is largely sourced from public articles! But I hear a lot of things that can be pretty funny and would have shaped perception of the club within NGS at the time, and are thus helpful if you want to know how everyone’s mood was as we slowly got over our role within NISA. Since that was the whole point of this series (and not just an extended biopic of the NYC tech scene), here are some fun rumors!
- The final time that LG put himself in net against us to lose 6-1, it came after I had tweeted at him all day that it could be his last chance to play against defending champions Detroit City FC before his club folded. He hadn’t been playing himself in net for awhile before this. Did I cause LG to cancel his dinner plans and go play some football? Or was that because roster mismanagement had caused them to sign too few GKs because he was always available as a backup?
- His Twitter handle, @laurencengirard, was deleted after some tweets I’d made around Fruit Street. It was recreated in November, likely after DCFC was announced as leaving NISA. Did I tweet the man off the Internet because I was poking around his business too much?
- NAFC failed to secure an ambulance for at least one home game. In at least one case, the opposition was forced to pay for one instead. It is unknown if the bill for this was ever paid. Hold that thought for another few articles…
- There have been at least 8-9 coaching changes, some of whom never coached a single game.
- There was a WeFunder set up once. It vanished without ever going live, but Laurence Girard was never listed as the one who had set it up. It featured a mirrored image of NGS implying that playing in NISA causes supporters groups like NGS to form for your club. (This was a recurring theme in NISA marketing.)
That’s enough of clubs who were “merely” embarrassing. We now need to talk about two clubs who embody true structural issues in the league. If you put a gun to my head and told me to narrow it down to two clubs that forced Detroit City FC to join USL after ten years trying literally every other option that existed, I’d start the conversation with the Los Angeles Force.
- Laurence Girard (via Chicago House AC)
- The 28-year-old startup is building a soccer club in new York from scratch.
- Funded by physicians, Fruit Street Health raises $17M
- New Amsterdam FC Announces Fruit Street Health as Spring 2021 NISA Shirt Sponsor
- Fruit Street - Crunchbase Company Profile & Funding
- Under the Lights: New Amsterdam FC (Protagonist Soccer)
- Who’s in Goal? (Protagonist Soccer)