Soda City FC continues to grow local opportunities in soccer

By Isaiah Lucas
Posted 3/30/23

For general manager Andrew Richardson, the semi-professional team, which plays and practices at the Saluda Shoals Soccer Complex, is perfectly entwined with the community it grew from in Columbia.

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Soda City FC continues to grow local opportunities in soccer


Soda City FC has been a successful member of the USPL since joining in 2018.

For general manager Andrew Richardson, the semi-professional team, which plays and practices at the Saluda Shoals Soccer Complex, is perfectly entwined with the community it grew from in Columbia.

“When you think of grassroot soccer and the impact soccer can have in a local environment, I think Soda City is the picturesque model of that,” Richardson said. 

Richardson saw Soda City as a way to open doorways for local athletes, keeping their dreams on the pitch alive. The organization kicked off a new season earlier this month, and the women’s team it added last summer having recently held tryouts to rally another squad.

The increasing scope of the operation belies its humble beginnings.

“It was just three or four guys that just had a love of the game and had been involved after playing in different varieties, whether that was coaching, or administrating on the club side, or working on the high school side, or working in college, whatever it may be,” Richardson said. “We recognized that there was a bit of a void in Columbia, and really greater-Columbia, for players who had grown up in the area to be able to continue their careers or continue to play in a competitive environment that was going to be able to represent the city.

“We kicked off that first year and had pretty good success. And then as we grew, we actually grew into the footprint of Columbia. So our partnerships became stronger, we were able to attract more players and build relationships with clubs and schools and colleges,” he added. “You fast forward two or three years later, where we were the only UPSL team in Columbia, there’s now four. We were kind of the only semi-professional organization that was able to compete on a national level, from South Carolina, there’s now two from Columbia who have played in the national semifinal.”

Community Assisted Growth

Richardson and the ownership group is very grateful for the role the community in Columbia played in providing support, whether that be financially or through other means. Richardson was adamant that this doesn’t happen without that support.

“When you think of soccer on the largest level in the United States, it’s the same problems at the youth level that it is on the pro level, and that is soccer is a very expensive sport,” Richardson explained. “To operate an MLS team, it’s probably a half a billion dollar expense. For us, obviously, being on the UPSL side, we’re like fourth-tier on the pyramid, it’s still incredibly expensive to operate. That first year when everything’s sorted out the way we wanted it and had our roadmap, we realized it was gonna cost us probably $50-60,000, just to operate, not to turn a profit of any sort, but just to operate.

“Being able to find people who had a vision that aligned with ours and understand what we were trying to do, it was tricky. That’s why we’re so appreciative of people like Gateway Supply Company, who has been with us from the very beginning, and groups like Prisma Health. There’s so many people who have really kind of gone above and beyond, not to put anything in our pockets, because, you know, I think I can speak on behalf of our ownership group, we’re not only we’re not taking any money home, we’re paying significant amounts of money out of our pocket to be able to continue the organization.”

While being able to obtain investments from the community was important, Richardson knows he has to put together a product that’s worthy of new investments, while also proving the club was indeed worth it to those currently invested.

“The financial side is a huge part of it and then the other side is really being able to market yourself as something that’s unique and worth people’s time to come out and see,” Richardson continued.  “Columbia is a growing city with a lot of opportunities. There’s probably five or six youth clubs, there’s obviously dozens of high schools, there’s colleges, there’s all kinds of different things for people to do. So within that scope, to still try to get people to come out to see our team play, it’s a challenge.

“That’s why we’ve worked so hard from a marketing side, whether that be through social media, or in building relationships with different entities. We’re just finding different and creative ways to get our name out and our story out so that people can connect with us and then they’ll want to support us. That I think has been one of our greatest challenges, but probably also one of our greatest triumphs as far as being able to do that successfully, and build up a fanbase that supports us really well.”

It Comes With the Territory

Soda City’s success in its first five years was somewhat expected by the ownership group in the early stages. However, how fast the success has been achieved has been a welcome surprise.

“We knew there were players who could play, they just needed an opportunity to be seen,” Richardson said. “What we didn’t know is how that talent was going to match up with talent across the rest of the Southeast, and across the rest of the country. And as we got into the league, and we started to play, teams from Savannah, and teams from Charleston, and teams from Charlotte, and teams from central Georgia, and even in Tennessee, we realized we were putting a really competitive team out every time we’re playing.

“I don’t know if we anticipated being able to get to that national level as quickly as we did,” he added. “But I think once we saw ourselves against the people we were going to be competing against, we thought we’d be able to put together a team that could at least make the attempt to be a championship level organization.”

While seeing the growth and success has been nice, it came with the creation of more local competition on the pitch, resulting in ever-changing numbers in the stands.

“We’ve also encountered a big challenge due to our success,” Richardson admitted. “When we got started we were the only show in town from a UPSL level. For players beyond that high school, club level or age, your choices were to play with us in the UPSL or to potentially go to the USL2 team, the Phantoms here in Columbia. You fast forward four, five years, there’s five UPSL teams plus the USL2 teams, and there’s three or four additional teams inside 50-60 miles. I think because of that, you naturally are going to lose people to some other organizations. You’re gonna lose some fan support because they’ll align themselves with this other team. But I think we’re still not even close to where we can be from a fan standpoint.”

Future Expansion

Those in charge at Soda City FC want as many talented people as possible to be able to continue to play the game at a very competitive level. Expanding the organization to different areas like a youth futsal team and a women’s team have been the result of that wish.

“We recognized we need to continue to take this model of providing soccer opportunities and expand that,” Richardson said. “That took us into having Columbia’s only United States Youth Futsal sanctioned organization for our younger players to be able to play indoors and learn a different style and a different avenue of the game.

“Last year was the first year we were able to compete in the WPSL on the women’s side, even though that had been something that we had on our horizon from the time we started. So to be able to put that team out last year, and then head into our second season this summer is something we’re really proud about. But it’s always going to be about looking for the next thing for us to be able to provide back to soccer within greater Columbia.”

The women’s program held open tryouts last weekend. The hope is that the team is just as successful as the Soda City men’s team. 

There’s been an emphasis on quality over quantity when it comes to putting a team together, according to Richardson, in order to maximize everything that’s being invested into it.

For more info on Soda City FC, visit and

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