The San Francisco Glens continue to make moves in the soccer world, and this time, they’ve found a kindred spirit 5,475 miles away in Kiel, Germany.
The distant Baltic seaside locale is not only one of The City’s official sister cities, it’s also home to pro club Holstein Kiel—the Glens’ new official partner.
“With Kiel being our sister city, this partnership was a natural fit,” said Glens general manager Mike McNeill. “I’m looking forward to hosting them next week and seeing how our clubs can help each other.”
Holstein Kiel, known as the Storks for their white shorts and red socks, competes in the 2. Bundesliga — one tier below the Bundesliga. This week, the German club will send a delegation of executives and coaches to San Francisco to formalize the partnership agreement as well as attend the Glens’ June 30 game at Boxer Stadium against the Ventura County Fusion.
During their trip they’ll also meet with the German Consulate, tour Silicon Valley and conduct a training camp for 70 of the Glens’ Under-14 through Under-18 youth players, who will travel to the Basque Country in northern Spain for the prestigious Donosti Cup in July.
“We’ve been contemplating for quite some time about what path to take internationally, and how to spread out our feelers into the very interesting American market,” said Wolfgang Schwenke, Holstein Kiel’s commercial director. “And with the Glens, we’ve found a club that wants to live out this partnership in the same way as us, and who has the same values as us when it comes to youth development and training.”
The partnership will entail each club sending players and coaches on mutual visits along with the exchange of knowledge and ideas, and camps for Glens youth players to be run by Holstein Kiel coaches. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the plan is for the German club’s first team to visit San Francisco and possibly play a series of preseason matches on the West Coast in 2020.
Holstein Kiel won the German championship in 1912, but a century later, after decades of decline and series of relegations, they languished in the fourth division. However, in spite of a tight budget, the club decided to heavily invest its resources in its youth academy players and selecting the right coaches to develop them.
Results followed, as the club gained promotion to the third division, and subsequently, the 2. Bundesliga just three years ago. While the Storks had the smallest stadium in the league with less than 12,000 seats, they punched above their weight, finishing third in 2017-18. In fact, Holstein Kiel was one win away from earning promotion to the top-flight Bundesliga and battling the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, but fell just short.
“We’re very proud of our youth performance center and where we are at the moment because are a club who can’t make the big transfers, so we want to train the players ourselves,” said Schwenke.
The Storks hope to stay on this upward trajectory even though first-division clubs have provided them with the ultimate (but dubious) flattery by hiring away Holstein Kiel’s head coaches twice in the past two campaigns.
Meanwhile the Glens are in the middle of an underdog story of their own. Founded in 1961 by the Irish-American community to compete in the SFSFL, the local adult amateur league, the club turned its attention to establishing a youth program in 2011.
What started with just two Under-5 teams has now exploded into the largest club in San Francisco, with over 70 youth and adult teams and nearly 1,300 players. In addition, the Glens’ youth club is now competing at the highest national and local levels, such as the U.S. Development Academy, USL Academy Cup, and the National Premier League.
Last season, the Glens decided to enter their top adult team in the USL League Two, which is in the fourth division of the American soccer pyramid. And like their German partners, the Glens have their sights set on something bigger.
Their long-term plan includes gaining promotion to the third-division USL League One, and later, the second-division USL Championship. Unfortunately, while Holstein Kiel can win their way to the top due to the German system of promotion and relegation, the Glens will need to gather a team of investors to pay the franchise entry fee for each ascending division in America.
“Rising up the ladder here has its own set of challenges,” McNeill said. “We feel this partnership is another step toward getting to where the Glens want to go.”
One aspect of note regarding the agreement is that the partnership is official, but not exclusive. The Glens are known around soccer circles for their long, proud association with Scottish juggernaut Celtic FC, as well as being the only San Francisco-based club to be named an official Partner in Development by the MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes. Neither will change, according to McNeill.
SAM JUNQUA BECOMES FIRST GLEN TO MAKE DEBUT WITH MLS CLUB
Houston Dynamo defender Sam Junqua made history when he made his pro debut in a 3-2 U.S. Open Cup defeat to Minnesota United FC.
This time last year, Junqua was starting at left back for the Glens’ inaugural USL League Two team. When he stepped on the field last Wednesday, he became the first player in the San Francisco club’s history to officially feature for an MLS team.
With the Dynamo traveling to Junqua’s hometown of San Jose next Wednesday to face the Earthquakes, there’s a solid chance he’ll have his own cheering section. Approximately 100 Glens club members and players are expected to attend the game—including the delegation featuring their new German partners.
The Glens return to Boxer on Sunday, June 30th against the Ventura County Fusion at 1 p.m. for the club’s inaugural $2 Beer Night. Watch the live stream on twitch.tv/jimmyconrad or go to sfglens.com for more information.