From the moment DaMarcus Beasley retired from professional soccer at the end of the 2019 Major League Soccer season, he felt a low rumble of unease. Granted, this is a man used to playing in front of tens of thousands in some of the biggest competitions the game had to offer, but he was stepping into the unknown; while there was excitement at what the future could hold, there was also uncertainty about how his future in the game he loves would play out.
“It’s more a sort of a nervousness of when will I get my shot, and where’s it going to be,” Beasley told ESPN FC during a video call.
Beasley’s future is beginning to come into focus. In conjunction with the United Soccer League (USL), he is putting together an investment group that will acquire a League One franchise — the third tier of America’s soccer pyramid — in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
He estimates that he has 60% of the financing in place, though the rest oftentimes can be the hardest to secure. The city’s mayor, Tom Henry, is on board, and the discussions are far enough along that a development company is in the early stages of working with Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and Fort Wayne Economic Development staff about a mixed-use development project that could be the future site for a 7,500-seat stadium. The proposed parcel of city-owned land is in the North River area of downtown.
Beasley retains enough of his local-kid-done-good cachet to draw people in.
“It’s kind of funny,” he said about some of his would-be partners. “They’re all, ‘back when you were in high school, you played with my son. That made a connection. Now it’s just literally getting the final touches on the land — crossing the T’s and dotting I’s and then, hopefully, everybody can be on board. Obviously, we hit a snag because of the coronavirus; we had to take a step back. But we’re in stages where it is definitely progressing.”
At present, League One has 12 teams, but USL is aggressively looking to expand in this area; according to the league, there are 50 potential markets under consideration, with active negotiations taking place in 15. The plan is to announce five expansion teams by the end of the year.
One gets the sense from Beasley that he’s in the right place for the next chapter in his life. Upon retirement, he was determined to take a meeting with anyone who would agree to give him time. He picked the brains of soccer executives across the country, discussing everything from academy structure to style of play to how teams are built.
Among the teams he spent time with was the Houston Dynamo, the organization with which he finished his career, but nothing materialized. That said, he found enough interested parties to get the information he desired.
“Some didn’t reach back,” he said. “I won’t lie. But that’s business and that’s something I’ll obviously learn down the line and get used to. But I was probably traveling on a consistent basis more than when I was playing, because I really want to be good at this and put my effort, my knowledge, my work, just everything into what I do. And that’s how I was as a player, and that part never failed me, that hard work part.”
Beasley knows that he has plenty to learn. While his expertise is more on the technical parts of the game, it is on the business side that he wants to dive in. He admits there will be a steep learning curve in terms of figuring out how things get done, and he’s determined not to let his ego put him in positions for which he’s not ready.
“Trust me, this is not me saying, ‘I can do this. I can do that.’ No, not at all,” he said. “I’m 100% even willing to take a lower role and learn the business, learn the day in and day out, really getting my feet wet with the team. And making decisions and seeing, OK, this works, this doesn’t work. OK, you guys did this here, but maybe that didn’t work.
“Obviously, still having a voice, having some power in team decisions, those kinds of things. But no way in hell am I saying that I’m ready to be the main man making every single decision. No, I need help.”
Not for the first time in Beasley’s professional life, his connection with Tim Howard proved fruitful. During their playing days with the U.S. men’s national team, there were plenty of times when the goalkeeper released Beasley with a pass. In this instance, Howard alerted his former international teammate that the USL was interested in working with him in some capacity.
As part owner, sporting director and player with Championship side Memphis 901 FC, Howard could offer some advice in terms of transitioning into the ownership ranks, while Beasley also sought the advice of another former teammate, San Diego Loyal part owner and head coach Landon Donovan. Starting a team in his hometown seems a natural fit.
“Timmy has been very helpful and actually I’ve spoken to Landon this week, and we’re going to speak again soon,” Beasley said. “But I’m just talking to different guys like that, just trying to get as much information as I can about USL, about the new projects and franchises going into league. So just that whole concept really intrigued me.”
Beasley has maintained his connection to Fort Wayne over the years, primarily through his soccer school in which he made sure he was a hands-on presence, and feels that the market has potential. He notes that the area has produced other notable players besides him, including Sky Blue FC midfielder Sarah Woldmoe, U.S. U-17 women’s national team forward Amelia White and Louisville City FC defender Akil Watts.
Fort Wayne also has had its share of soccer teams pass through, from the Flames of the American Indoor Soccer Association in the late 1980s to the present-day Fort Wayne FC of the NPSL. There are other minor league sports in town as well, with baseball, basketball and even roller derby competing for attention.
Beasley hopes that his budding outfit and Fort Wayne FC can work together to grow the sport of soccer, though time — and the continued presence of the coronavirus — will determine the extent to which that comes to pass.
“It’s unfortunate that Fort Wayne FC had to cancel their season because of the coronavirus,” he said. “But just the amount of fans and businesses and everyone getting on board behind a team, that really showed me that, ‘Oh, man, they, they can really get behind a soccer team.’ I’ve seen it with baseball and the TinCaps and I’ve seen it with the Mad Ants in basketball. But with soccer, obviously, you never know. It’s still a growing sport, but I think the city is big enough. It’s ready.”
So is Beasley.