Nashua Eagles need to strengthen wings to soar

On one hand, you have to give Jared Barbosa credit.

The part-owner and team president of the Eagles of the International Soccer Club of Nashua won’t sugarcoat things and let bite off more than he can chew.

His local professional soccer franchise isn’t going to dominate the area sports picture and pack stands for its first few years as Year Two is almost underway.

“It’s just not realistic,” he said.

But on the other hand, it shouldn’t really hide, either.

It’s been too quiet on the Eagles front the last few months, until finally Sunday’s kickoff party at a local downtown/Main Street Nashua establishment raised some interest. You can understand some of it – Nashua’s professional soccer team didn’t exactly know what level of the United Premier Soccer League it would play in due to some changes atop the UPSL. Plus it’s home last year, Rivier University’s Raider Field, is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation that while making it perhaps one of the best facilities if not the best in the UPSL’s Northeast Conference Patriot Division. But it basically yet understandably put the Eagles in a bind.

So for awhile Barbosa’s crew didn’t know who it would be playing this spring and summer and, more importantly, where it would be playing.

“It’s been an obstacle, but it just comes with the nature of what’s happening,” Barbosa said. “There’s been a bunch of different things, not just one thing, a few factors that have made it an obstacle. These things come with the territory and you just have to keep moving.”

But that’s all been settled. The Eagles will stay in the same division they were in last year – an elevation to a higher level would have meant playing outside the region (New York, Philadelphia, etc) with high travel costs.

Yet while they open the season this Saturday night at 7 vs. JuvePro in Ashland, Mass., they won’t have their home opener at Radier Field until – be prepared – June 21. That’s a good five weeks later than a year ago.

“It was half expected,” Barbosa said. “When (the problems) came, you were prepared for it.”

These poor guys can’t catch a break. Last year, their inaugural home opener was played in relative anonimity, thanks to a raw, damp mid-May day. And this year they’ll have played five games out of state before stepping on home turf.

But the good news is once here, you’re going to see a good level of soccer. The Eagles, for the six home games they had last season, put on a good show. The quality of soccer was certainly higher than anything normally seen around here. Once the weather improved – there’s memories of a sun splashed Saturday in early July with the Raider field near sideline lined with people – you could tell they had a following.

“It’s late but it’s out of our hands,” Barbosa said. “The league has been great in terms of being lenient and flexible with us, we did provide a good product last year. We led the league in per-game attendance, single game attendance, concessions (about 150 fans a game).

“For the first season, doing anything like that, it was really successful.”

But Barbosa admits the Eagles are taking a step back. To try to help limit that, the franchise has tried to keep things going “by creating partnerships with organizations in our community.” They’ll be working again with the Nashua Youth Soccer League (NYSL), and this year have established a relationship with PAL and will be at various youth events in the spring and early summer. So the Eagles will be flapping their wings a bit.

“We’re in the public eye in that sense, still kind of maintaining that presence,” Barbosa said. “This is reality, you just have to work with it.”

Because you never know with construction, the Eagles looked at a couple of temporary spots in Manchester, but they really didn’t want to leave Nashua, even for a game or two.

And they know that when Raider – soon to be Merrill Field, in honor of Riv’s longtime AD Joanne Merrill – is completed, it will be perfect for them. It won’t be a huge stadium, so a crowd of, say, 300, will look good compared to if it was in a 2,000 seat place. “It’s going to be smaller, a little more intimate, which I think is going to be so, so appropriate,” he said. “We we’d like to do a nice opener for it.”

Barbosa loves the relationship with Riv – brother Hayden is the Raiders men’s soccer coach – and calls it “an honor” to play there. Remember, Stellos Stadium isn’t an option because it’s earmarked only for youth.

It’ll be nice to see the Eagles on the field again. Popular top scorer Quincy Appah, who led the team with 12 goals last season, is back. But for a local angle, they’ve signed former Northwestern University and University of New Hampshire standout Willis Griffith, a Souhegan alum from Amherst. Griffith took UNH to the NCAAs in 2017 while using his final year of college eligibility to play for his second team called the Wildcats while getting his Masters Degree in public policy. Oh, and he’s put that to good use by getting elected as a NH State Representative. Great story.

“An immense signing,” Barbosa said.

The Eagles truly need to promote these things, because this look like it will be a fun team to watch. We understand them being tentative because of not knowing until lately when they’d be able to play at home, etc., but hopefully Sunday’s event gets them picking up the pace, reaching out to media, fans, etc. on a broader level.

Barbosa did correctly say “It would be silly to go crazy with promotions and not know if we’re going to have a place to play.” He added that social media and the ILC’s some 150 families involved would provide good exposure, or enough interest. Other teams in the league, he said, don’t take the public interest that seriously.

“We were happy with last year and we’re happy where we’re at,” Barbosa said. “We’re looking forward to getting stuff going.”

After their home opener, the Eagles will have a stretch of home games. The regular season extends later this year, to August 3, which helps them.

Now it’s time for them to help themselves.

Tom King may be reached at 594-1251,