Exactly zero professional teams grace the Arkansas sports landscape.
Zilch. Zip. Nil.
One amateur soccer team — the primary tenant of the cavernous 54,000+ seat War Memorial Stadium — is working hard to fill that void.
In 2015, local businessman Jonathan Wardlaw — one of 16 founders and their families — brought semi-professional soccer to Arkansas in the form of the Little Rock Rangers. In their first season in the fourth-division National Premier Soccer League (NASL), the club drew crowds of 4,000 and 5,000 people, placing them near the top of the league’s best-attended clubs in 2016 alongside the likes of Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC and Grand Rapids FC.
Following the inaugural-season success, the club launched a team in the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) this past season. And while there’s been a sophomore slump in attendance for the men’s team, in a relatively short amount of time Little Rock has thrust themselves into the conversation of candidate cities for professional soccer, with both the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) and UDL D3 looking to add teams for their first seasons in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
In a noisy Starbucks in Little Rock on July 11, I met with Jonathan Wardlaw. We were joined by Little Rock resident Ante Jazic, a former Canadian national team player with European and MLS experience, to discuss the Rangers and soccer in Arkansas as a whole.
You can listen to our conversation in the embedded Soundcloud player above.