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Rhode Island FC, supporters ready to put on a soldout show

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 03/15/24, 3:10PM EDT


Exciting new expansion club set to debut in USL Championship vs. unbeaten New Mexico United

Rhode Island FC President Brett Luy and Head Coach Khano Smith are ready to put on a show for fans at the club's inaugural home opener on Saturday against New Mexico United.

It’s been a longer wait than most – almost four-and-a-half years to be exact – for soccer fans in Rhode Island.

After officially becoming a USL Championship club in December of 2019, Rhode Island FC host New Mexico United this Saturday afternoon before a sellout crowd eager to see their club finally kick off.

For those who’ve been there since the beginning, like Chairman Brett Johnson and supporting owner Michael Parkhurst, and those who over the past 18 months have shaped the club like RIFC President Brett Luy, it promises to be an emotional day.

“It’s been a labor of love, so to speak,” said Luy this week on NESN during an intermission of a Boston Bruins game. “To see this process fully come to fruition, it’s an exciting step in the process and we’re looking forward to welcoming more than 5,000 of our closest friends on March 16.”

And make no mistake, Rhode Island FC is ready to put on a show.

Providence native and former American Idol finalist Erika Van Pelt will sing the national anthem, and the club is welcoming Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebein, and Bryant University President Ross Gittell to conduct the first coin toss in club history.

So is Defiance 1636, the club’s supporters’ group.

After the years of wait, the smoke is ready to greet the first goal in club history. The group itself is also hopeful its presence will encourage more to join up and give RIFC’s home games the vibrant atmosphere it can’t wait to deliver.

“I think supporters group culture is something that’s new for people here, it’s very new for the large majority of people here in Rhode Island,” Defiance 1636 co-founder Joe Samayoa told American Tifo.  “A lot of people have come up to us, asking, ‘What’s a supporters’ group, what are you guys all about?

“It’s a lot more show don’t tell. We’re making sure that when we show up, we come out in numbers, and we’re really going to be loud.” 

As for the squad, there’s the potential for plenty to celebrate. RIFC Head Coach Khano Smith had been provided the opportunity to acquire some major talent for the club’s first season. There’s the attacking duo of 2023 USL Championship Player of the Year Albert Dikwa and JJ Williams, the experience of goalkeeper Koke Vegas – brought on as the first signing in club history and named club captain – and midfielder Conor McGlynn.

There’s also a crop of players who will be looking to turn heads in the league, such as former New York City FC defender Stephen Turnbull and young Canadian Karifa Yao, both of whom could make their USL Championship debuts on Saturday.

For Smith, the roster-building process has been with one aim in mind – bringing in experience, quality and players who can deliver entertainment on a weekly basis.

“I fell in love with the game by watching attacking, free-flowing, fast, high-energy football, creating goalscoring opportunities,” Smith told USL All Access’ Mike Watts and Devon Kerr this week. “Ultimately, we’re providing an experience, an entertainment for our fans and people who are here to support our club. That’s hopefully the experience we provide.”

There are more landmark moments to come in Rhode Island FC’s future, most notably the opening of the club’s permanent stadium in Pawtucket, scheduled for next season, which Luy expects will be a flagship venue in the USL Championship and New England’s soccer landscape.

But there’s something special about the promise a first game in a club’s history provides.

For everyone on hand, especially if the hosts can deliver a victory, it will be a day to savor.

“Finally, to see a ball getting kicked, it’s surreal in a very good way,” Samayoa told American Tifo. “We’ve been preparing for a while, we’ve known exactly what we want to do and to have that moment finally arrive, it’s here, it’s happening, I still don’t think I’ll be able to believe it.”

Believe it, Joe.

Rhode Island stands ready.

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