skip navigation

7 Things You Should Know about Memphis 901 FC

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 06/29/23, 5:00PM EDT


Ahead of its nationally televised clash on ESPN2, we spoke with three key players from the Eastern Conference contenders

Jeremy Kelly (left), Aaron Molloy (center) and Graham Smith (center-right) have all been key pieces in Memphis 901 FC's rise to USL Championship contender. | Photo courtesy Ryan Beatty / Memphis 901 FC

The past two-and-a-half years have been transformative for Memphis 901 FC, which has gone from early struggles in its inaugural season to becoming one of the USL Championship’s powerhouse clubs on the field in Year 5.

Ahead of its clash with Phoenix Rising FC on ESPN2 this Saturday night, we caught up with defender Graham Smith and midfielders Jeremy Kelly and Aaron Molloy to learn about the club, it’s culture, new Head Coach Stephen Glass, and how good this team can be.

1. Memphis is Building a Culture All its Own

Culture is an idea that gets tossed around a lot when it comes to a club identity, but as talented as Louisville City FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies have been in recent years, there have been other reasons why they’ve met in three consecutive Eastern Conference Finals.

Memphis is aiming to buck that trend this year after its heartbreaking defeat at home to the Rowdies last postseason, and the club’s culture and buy-in from new faces is a key part to the team’s evident growth.

SMITH: I think initially coming in last year was a group that, I think the coaching staff and the front office did well to identify very high-character, high-energy guys. Obviously, there was already a good culture that was set with the guys who were already there. So once that gets set, it’s really easy to integrate the new, talented guys that have been brought in this year to the culture, and just build on that success.

MOLLOY: I think for the most part it’s similar. Obviously, different faces, and those guys coming in have actually really brought the level up. I know the guys that were here last year were hungry from what happened in the [Eastern Conference Semifinal] versus Tampa Bay and we wanted to put things right. The guys that have come in have definitely helped us so far.

2. Stephen Glass’ Management Style Fits the Room

New Memphis 901 FC Head Coach Stephen Glass has built on the foundation built in the past two seasons and has the side as a leading contender for the USL Championship title. | Photo courtesy Ryan Beatty / Memphis 901 FC

After the progress 901 FC made under former Head Coach Ben Pirmann over the past two seasons, the sense was Stephen Glass had big shoes to fill taking over after Pirmann’s move to the Charleston Battery.

The Scottish manager has allayed any of those concerns, with his management style fitting in seamlessly with the established squad as they aim to raise the bar on the field.

KELLY: He is a very easy guy to play for. You know, he’s obviously played at the highest level, so the experience that comes with that is valuable to every one of us. He’s a great man manager and he knows what he wants out of us tactically. We’ve had a great relationship with him.

SMITH: I think that he’s done a really good job of coming in and communicating his standards – how he wants us to play – but he’s also done a good job of seeing what worked well for us last year and not trying to change that too much. Obviously, he’s had a huge influence on us as players and as a group and he’s pushed us to a level that he wants us to be at this year, but he's found a really good balance of the two things.

3. The Undefeated Streak is Nice, but Not Everything

901 FC has made club history this season with its current 12-game undefeated streak (8-0-4) the longest in its history. As good a storyline as that is, it’s a byproduct of their focus on the work that they hope will put them in title contention at the end of the year.

KELLY: The streak is kind of a byproduct of playing well on a day-to-day basis. We try not to think about it too much, and just go out there and take the game by game, because it’s a long season. I mean, it’d be great if we did keep the streak going until the end of the year. That’s probably not likely, but we’d take if it happened.

MOLLOY: If we win, we celebrate, if we lose, we let it hurt for that night, but once Monday comes around, we all focus on the next game. Obviously, the first two games of the year didn’t go as planned and that feeling is still with us going into every game. I think it’s great going 12 games unbeaten and climbing the table, but we’re just looking forward to playoffs and hopefully being number one and winning the league.

4. Graham Smith Loves His Midfield Duo

Memphis 901 FC's Aaron Molloy (left) and Jeremy Kelly can make a very strong case for being the best current midfield duo in the USL Championship. | Photo courtesy FC Tulsa

There might not be a better central midfield duo than Molloy and Kelly, who are the two highest-rated Defensive Midfielders (DM) in American Soccer Analysis’ Goals Added metric and each week usually pass the eye test with flying colors in their influence on the game.

For Smith, it’s changed one way he’s approached the game, knowing the more the duo can get on the ball, the better Memphis’ prospects for success.

SMITH: Getting them the ball in good opportunities and letting them set the set the pace, I’m not trying to create too much from the backline. They probably won’t say this, but a lot of our success and a lot of our control of games comes from those two dictating the game. So, the more they can get on it, the more we can get them involved, the better we are as a team, because they do a really good job of finding the guys up front.

5. Control doesn’t always mean possession, but intent

When Stephen Glass was interviewed on USL All Access on SiriusXM this Tuesday, he spoke about having control over the game, as you’ll hear from many coaches. What control looks like, though, isn’t always about out-possessing an opponent, something the players embrace.

KELLY: I think there are different ways to be on the front foot and to be aggressive and to make other teams suffer. You can do it with the ball, you can do well off the ball. I think we’ve got a group where we know sometimes, we’re going to have to ride the storm and we’re going to have to control the game defensively. Other times, we’re going to have to control it by moving the ball and keeping it in their half. I think it's great that we can do both and we’re not over reliant on only having the ball and we know if we don't have the ball, we're good.

MOLLOY: I think what [Glass] means by having control of the game is maybe having the ball a little more and moving it side-to-side, being on the front foot. Teams are going to come and we’ve got to weather a storm at times, but [it’s about] us being the aggressors, us having more shots on target, more possession, more passes, those type of things, and making the team uncomfortable that we’re playing against. It’s something we work on on a weekly basis, and I think it’s a credit to the coaching staff that it’s something I think we've been doing.

6. 901 FC Wants to Represent Memphis Well

Memphis 901 FC midfielder Aaron Molloy meets fans after a recent home victory. | Photo courtesy Ryan Beatty / Memphis 901 FC

We’ve talked about the culture within 901 FC’s organization, but the culture of the city is an element that’s also in play when the team takes the field. The support the team has received away from the field has been a pillar the club has built around as it looks to bring a title to Memphis.

SMITH: You look into the community, and Memphis is a city that has a lot of really special, honest people in it. We’re a group that does a lot of stuff together, so that builds the culture you’re speaking about, but also you interact with business owners in the area, and you see how much the club means to them, and it gives you a little bit more of a of a purpose and a drive of why you want to go out. Obviously, we’re all competitors. We want to go out and compete and win, but that gives a little bit of extra motivation.

7. The Confidence Within the Squad is High

When asked who their biggest rivals for the Eastern Conference crown is, Memphis’ players will give you the regular chat about there being no easy games. They’re not going to get suckered into naming names.

But the way they say it tells you they’d back themselves against anyone they go up against. The level of confidence the side has is something they can agree to, with one of the club’s original players in the middle of that mindset.

MOLLOY: I think [being a confident team is] what we strive to be. Training is very difficult. Every day we can test each other, we can make each other uncomfortable because we know that’s what teams are going to try and make us do. We’re not guaranteed, obviously, to be there in October but we’re doing everything in our power to be as close as possible, if not finishing on top of the table. I think we have the squad and the coaching staff to do so.

KELLY: I think every day our mindset is to be the best team we can be. So far, we’ve shown that that’s a pretty good team. We’re near the top of the rankings, and I think that’s a byproduct of our mentality. I’ve also got to give Leston Paul a lot of credit. Even when he’s not playing, he holds this group together and he challenges us every day. He’s really a big part of this team and the mentality we have.

Follow the USL Championship

Most Recent News

Most Read News

Latest Videos