Strickland has spent the past three summers coaching the Johnson City-based Tri-Cities FC Otters soccer team. These days, he’s still the team’s coach — as well as being one of the franchise’s new owners. Strickland was part of a group that bought the team from its founder, Michael Balluff.
“It’s a lot to have on your plate,” Strickland said. “We’re establishing some ideas and directions where we want to go with it but keeping the team going too. It’s a balance. I’m thinking about the game but I’m also thinking about how many people will be in the stands, things like merchandising. Fortunately we have a really good general manager (Lucas Christiansen) and some other partners who are working hard too.”
The Otters play in USL League Two, which was previously called the Premier Developmental League. It’s the fourth tier of soccer in the United States, behind MLS, USL Championship and USL League One.
The team plays its home games at Science Hill’s Kermit Tipton Stadium, and it’s a facility the Otters will be very familiar with by the end of the month. Their next five league games are at home. They will close the season with six in a row on the road.
“Personally, I would prefer to have the schedule heavy at home at the end,” Strickland said. “But the key is capturing points when you’re at home, no matter when you’re playing. If we can capture points at home, we’re going to be pretty good in the standings.”
After three games, the Otters are 1-1-1 with four points in the standings of the South Atlantic Division. They have two home games scheduled this week: Tuesday against North Carolina FC U-23 and Saturday against NC Fusion U-23. Both games begin at 7 p.m.
The Otters’ roster is full of college players looking to hone their skills against tough competition during the summer. Five East Tennessee State players are on the team.
“Each year we have recruited better players,” Strickland said. “A lot of that goes back to Michael laying such a good foundation here. Players are treated well here and that word spreads. Good players know good players and they share that we take care of them and look after them.
“On the field, we’ve improved our defensive back line, improved our midfield. We have some really good players in those areas that are fluent with the ball and they have a real soccer brain.”
Individual game tickets are $10 and kids 17 and under are admitted free. Season tickets are on sale for as little as $60. For ticket information, visit www.ottersoccer.com.