RIFC soccer members gather for a huddle.
Over the course of their inaugural season, Rhode Island Football Club will play 34 regular season matches, half of which will be held at Bryant University's Beirne Stadium. (Photo courtesy Rhode Island FC)
Home away from home: Bryant, RIFC partner for professional soccer team’s inaugural season
Jun 06, 2024, by Emma Bartlett
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In professional soccer, balls can reach 50 to 60 miles per hour after a powerful kick. At Bryant University’s David M. '85 and Terry Beirne Stadium over Memorial Day Weekend, the one-pound ball feverishly spun across the turf and met one pair of cleats after another as members of Rhode Island Football Club (RIFC) — the Ocean State’s newly established professional soccer team — made their way toward their opponent’s defensive area.

Sun shining, wind blowing, and spectators chanting on the 75-degree Saturday afternoon, forward Mark Doyle headed the ball to midfielder Jack Panayotou who made a swift pass to forward JJ Williams. Crossing the midfield line, they battled their way toward the goal — searching for an open pocket where they could slip the ball to a teammate and continue advancing forward.

An hour into the 90-minute match against Louisville City FC, Beirne Stadium was filled with RIFC’s colors — amber and blue — as fans sat on the edge of their seats sporting jerseys, scarves, foam fingers, and sunglasses reading “nice goal,” across the lens.

A home away from home, RIFC’s 25 players are waiting for the completion of the Stadium at Tidewater Landing, their permanent home in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The facility is expected to be completed by the start of the team’s 2025 season but, until then, the professional athletes are busy celebrating their inaugural season and solidifying their foundation at Bryant.

Sharing a home

From working out in the university’s Strength and Conditioning Center to converting a campus squash court into a training room, RIFC soccer players have been training at Bryant since February.

RIFC soccer player with soccer ball.
RIFC competes against Louisville FC over Memorial Day Weekend. (Photo courtesy Rhode Island FC)

“We're incredibly grateful to have a place to do this,” says RIFC Director of Operations Tim Holmes, who’s been focusing on the fan experience. “Building relationships with everybody in Athletics and across campus departments and shedding beautiful light on the university and not just our team has been really important.”

Over the course of their inaugural season, RIFC will play 34 regular season matches, half of which will be held at Beirne Stadium. With the location seating 4,400 spectators, RIFC brought in more bleachers to bring its capacity to more than 5,200. The extra seating has proven to be beneficial, as tickets had sold out for the team’s first match on March 16 against New Mexico United.

“Nobody knew our players or what to expect. It was a really great feeling to have the energy that we had in the stadium with everybody wearing our colors and being dedicated on day one,” Holmes says.

As the team strategically maneuvers the soccer ball on the field during matches, RIFC’s operations team has been doing their own navigating behind the scenes as they coordinate the team’s training and competitions with the university’s athletics programs.

“Navigating through scheduling with the university has been really rewarding; it's been a pretty heavy lift and it's all worked out quite well,” says Holmes, who’s also worked closely with Information Services, Department of Public Safety, and Campus Management.

Bryant’s Vice President of Athletics and Recreation Bill Smith, JD, adds that the university’s state-of-the-art facilities have provided RIFC with an exceptional place to train and compete during the team’s first season.

“We are honored to host the Rhode Island Football Club on our campus during the team’s inaugural season, allowing us to showcase Bryant’s beautiful campus to professional soccer teams and their loyal fans from around the country,” says Smith.

Supporting fellow Rhode Islanders

Over Memorial Day Weekend, the smell of popcorn, barbecue, and other savory foods drifted through RIFC’s food truck village — located in a shaded, mulched area adjacent to the stadium. Families and friends gathered at the nearby picnic tables and chowed down on the selection of rotating eats under string lights.

Crowd of RIFC supporters in Bryant's Beirne Stadium.
Sun shining and wind blowing, spectators root for RIFC while sporting the team's jerseys, scarves, and foam fingers. (Photo courtesy Rhode Island FC)

Holmes notes that the businesses are all local and that RIFC is emphasizing partnerships throughout the state. Most recently, the club collaborated with The Guild, a Pawtucket-based brewery. The beverage company recently developed and released an RIFC pale ale at the soccer team’s April 13 home match against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, a new staple within the stadium’s beer garden.

Just outside the food truck village while a DJ pumped up the crowd, kids kicked an inflatable Velcro soccer ball toward a Velcro target and attempted to land a bullseye. As parents watched on, a few youngsters called for their buddies to join them at the inflatable soccer field — an area where fun is unleashed as children scrimmage and shoot toward the kid-sized goals.

Holmes notes that the organization also runs a group experience where kids walk players onto the field before the coin toss, and a ball kid program where adolescents retrieve out of bounds soccer balls.

“We're constantly engaging with local soccer clubs that want to become involved with the professional side of the sport,” Holmes says.

Making their mark

After maintaining a strong defensive stance and taking several shots just shy of their opponent’s goal, Saturday’s match ended 0-0. Kids — who’d been offering high fives to players as they made their way to and from the locker room — and their families approached the field for autographs.

“Every piece of what they're doing is new: new coaching team, new player team, new facility. To be able to come in and hold their own in the league of teams that have been playing together for a very long time is something that we're proud of for them,” says Holmes.

RIFC goalie high-fives kids.
Following the match, RIFC goalkeeper Koke Vegas meets gameday fans. (Photo courtesy Rhode Island FC)

As the team strengthens its foundation, they look ahead to eleven more regular season home matches at Beirne Stadium – which will end in the crisp autumn weather under stadium lights. Until then and potential postseason matches, they’re excited for the upcoming journey — one they get to share with the Rhode Island community.

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