A View from Afar / Junior Lone Star FC

Is Junior Lone Star FC the next big thing in Philly soccer?

Photo courtesy of Junior Lone Star

Years from now, this may be viewed as the moment Junior Lone Star FC cemented itself as a major fixture in the Philadelphia area’s soccer scene.

It comes in the form of Derrick Jones Amaniampong, a 6-3 attacking midfielder who joined Philadelphia Union for their Florida training camp. At just 17 years old, Amaniampong is a high school senior at the Union’s YSC Academy, the high school aligned with the Union’s youth development system, having emigrated from Ghana to Philadelphia in 2012.

“He absolutely has a chance of making the team,” Union head coach Jim Curtin told MLSsoccer.com’s Dave Zeitlin in early February. “You can’t coach 6-foot-3 and having good feet. He has ability beyond his years. Derrick has moments with our first team where he can dominate, and then Derrick is a young player so he also has moments where he makes a silly mistake.”

Amaniampong, a one-time U-15 Ghanaian international, came to the Union’s attention through his play with Junior Lone Star FC, the southwest Philadelphia-based club playing in the fourth tier National Premier Soccer League. In late 2013, Amaniampong dominated for Junior Lone Star’s U-19 squad when they knocked off the Union’s U-18s 2-1 in a friendly. The Union invited Amaniampong to train with their youth academy shortly thereafter.

Amaniampong didn’t make the cut out of training camp this time, but he remains a promising academy prospect.

Should he eventually make the Union’s first team roster, he will be the first Junior Lone Star player to move on to a first division club. He likely won’t be the last. Lamine Conte is playing for the Union’s U-16s, while the club is trying to find a means of getting midfielder Vlandy Eric Slueue to Europe for trials with teams there. Eight other players have signed professional or semipro contracts in the last year.

“We have so many youth players coming up through the ranks that I see have a professional future,” Junior Lone Star team president Paul Konneh* said via email.

Progress on the field

Since its founding in 2001, the club has progressed on from an unknown, 11-man neighborhood club comprised of Liberian immigrants to become one of the most interesting teams in the region. After all, this is a team comprised largely of refugees.

“Most of our players are West African immigrants who fled series of brutal civil wars in their respective countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ivory Coast,” said Konneh, a Darby resident and Liberian immigrant who joined Junior Lone Star in 2011.

In recent years, their play on the field has become as interesting as their back story off it. One could even argue that they have become the best team within Philadelphia city limits.

Junior Lone Star fielded three teams last year. They had begun back in 2001 with just one, but as players aged out of youth brackets, they added additional teams, Konneh said.

Last year, Junior Lone Star’s U-19s made the finals of the EYPSA U-19 State Cup under the leadership of longtime coach Thomas George.

Their U-23s made the USASA regional cup finals in 2012 and 2013.

Meanwhile, coach Bobby Ali and the senior team nearly added its first EPSYA Open Cup title in December when they were up 3-1 at halftime before falling 4-3 to West Chester United.

The way ahead

This year, however, the senior team will take a hiatus from the NPSL, Konneh said. In some ways, they are victims of their own success.

Seven first team players from last year’s squad have signed semipro contracts to play in the new American Soccer League. Seydou Ba, Josh Chelleh, Ayouba Fane, Samuel Fahnboto, and Amadou Sheriff joined Philadelphia Fury, while Dodji Freitas signed with the Atlantic City Crusaders and Mohamed Conteh with Icon FC. Anthony Dunor followed fellow Junior Lone Star alum Anthony Allison to Sweden last season when he signed with third-tier side Frano SK.

The year off will give Junior Lone Star some freedom and time to determine their path ahead. They recently incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Konneh said. There is also some consideration of starting a youth academy to provide a venue for younger local players and complete their internal development pyramid.

“Living in the impoverished southwest Philadelphia area, most of these parents don’t have the finances needed to send their children to costly academies in other areas,” Konneh said. “Hence, our need to start our own academy programs to enroll these kids free of charge.”

The club wants to build a turf field so they have something safer and more reliable on which to practice. The question may be funding.

“Presently, all of our teams practice on a dilapidated field at McCreesh Playground which is very unsafe,” Konneh said. “It’s all dirt and no grass. We practice there because we have nowhere due to the costly rentals of other fields.”

The club could even consider a name change to something like Philadelphia Lone Star, although that’s still to be discussed. The team name derives from the nickname of the Liberian national team, the Lone Stars, which stems from the nation’s flag and is in itself a nod to Liberia’s unique historic ties to the United States. Konneh thinks the club could broaden its appeal and renown with a slight name change.

“Within the next two years, I don’t think this club will be based among the West African diaspora,” Konneh said. “We are trying to open the club to everyone. I don’t want the name Junior Lone Star FC to be synonymous with ‘that African team.’ I would like for us to be noticed as ‘that team from Philadelphia.'”

*Author’s note: You may notice Paul Konneh’s name from occasional bylines at PSP. He provides PSP occasional reports on Junior Lone Star in the absence of a regular PSP beat writer for Junior Lone Star.

12 Comments

  1. Have been following these guys for a few years now…..great story, great little club for all the right reasons. My hats off to them and their continued success. There is a lot of talent in Southwest Philly from the West African community……….its about time people take notice.

  2. See this is what we need in this country. A seed. A passion. A vision. A Philosophy. A Plan. A way to grow and rise up through the ranks over time- fighting and clawing for financial backing and respect and consideration – from small club team to first division Preimer team and natural in-city rivals to….. OOPS- right, that would never happen- single entity monopoly controls who gets to play at the highest level.
    .
    Now that I got the cynicism out of the way- Junior Lone Star FC represent to me what is great about this game and what is great about what this game can become, if US Soccer just thought through its policy a bit differently – if US Soccer grew a pair and commanded its nepotistic little brother MLS to open its doors and suffer the inevitable instability that would result in a powerful and thriving Futbol economy for ALL – you know the very principals the country was founded in and then guarded against about 150 years ago. (date arbitrary. i do not know when anti trust and anti monopoly legislation was passed)
    .
    Grow NASL- pressure the controlling hegemony and hierarchy…..GROW GROW GROW GROW GROW.
    .
    Excellent read Dan. Well done.

    • An excerpt from Hudson River Blue article with Stefan Szymanski writer of Soccernomics in Farnsworth’s article from yesterday. I hear ECHO.
      .
      “Part of the problem here is the contrast between the profits of owners versus the long-term health of the league. If you really wanted to create a major league sport, what you would do is just open everything up to competition, create a promotion and relegation system, bring in billionaires and say, “build your own team.” I think, in a small number of years, you would see that develop into a dynamic, very exciting structure. The U.S. would be very good at attracting those kinds of individuals.
      .
      But I don’t think that’s going to happen, because the current owners would have to surrender their own commitment to making profits in the short-term, and they won’t do it. That’s the problem, the American model – the NFL, the NBA, MLB – of organizational structure is very successful when there’s no real viable competition elsewhere in the world, and that’s just not true in soccer. [MLS owners] don’t recognize it, but they won’t succeed in making money because it’s not a viable model in a competitive environment.”
      .
      The North American Soccer League is our best hope to get this game where it needs to be. GROW GROW GROW GROW.
      .
      As Gary Kleiben said in a recent interview, there is the franchised (US Soccer and its policy with MLS and the old guard) and the dis-enfranchised (a growing voice of discontent with the state of the game here) and the voice of the disenfranchised is growing louder and louder and becoming more and more organized. The revolution is coming. The revolution is coming.

  3. Wow, this is very cool. Never heard of these guys and won’t forget about them. Looking forward to their future. Any way to donate? They deserve a turf field.

    • I just did a lot of clicking. I cannot find a “donate here” button on their website, although there is a broken link for those who wish to become partners. It could be that their 501(c)(3) status has not yet been granted (I can’t find them on irs.gov). I think we PSP commenters could totally get behind this organization. It would be nice if my donation were tax-deductible so maybe we could confirm that before the telethon starts…

      • Thanks everyone for the support. Osager, we were approved. IRS made a mistake and listed the club in Darby instead of Philly. Please check the irs website for Exempt Organization Select Check. Then search for Junior Lone Star Football Club and in the City field, write in Darby. Hopefully,the irs will change the city. As regards the donation, I’m still working on our website which will be launched later tonight. On the website, under Stadium, you will see our Future Home, there were info about our proposed turf field and a donation button will be included. Please check our site http://www.juniorlonestarfc.org by tomorrow to donate, if possible. Thanks again everyone.

      • Where do you hope to play? No longer at Bonner I imagine.

      • We only use Bonner for NPSL matches. We are not allowed to practice there. We won’t be playing at Bonner this year because we are taking a hiatus from the NPSL this season.

        What we are looking for is a suitable field that will be used by all of our teams for practices and league matches.

        That’s why we are asking for funds to help us build our own turf field.

        Hopefully, we can have the funds needed to build our turf field before the 2016 season starts.

      • Cheers sir. Wish you well.

      • I know, with their quality….playing on that narrow pitch must drive them nuts!

      • Thank you for the clarification. I hope PSP gets this info on their front page for all to read.

  4. Thanks to Dan for this featured story about Junior Lone Star FC. Thanks to everyone for the kind words. We are now a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with our Federal ID # 45-2848533.

    We are now accepting donations on our website at http://www.juniorlonestarfc.org. Under club, click Sponsors / Partners or you can click this direct link http://www.juniorlonestarfc.org/club/sponsors-partners/.

    We accept any amount of donation. All donations are tax-deductible.

    Once again, thanks to Dan and all the staff here at the Philly Soccer Page.

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