The first time Frank Yallop visited Fresno, in February 2010, as coach of the San Jose Earthquakes, he knew next to nothing about the city but quickly discovered it was a soccer town.
The Major League Soccer club nipped the amateur-level Fresno Fuego 3-2 in a preseason exhibition at Chukchansi Park. But it’s not the final score that Yallop remembers most.
“It was a great crowd,” Yallop recalled. “I’m thinking, ‘Jeez, this is a good atmosphere.’ ”
The second time Yallop visited Fresno, in July 2017, it was for the formal announcement of Fresno FC – the new United Soccer League club that will kick off its inaugural season March 17 – and his own introduction as general manager.
“I believed in the project, believed in (principal owner) Ray (Beshoff), and I saw a city starved for professional soccer and a team the fans can get behind,” Yallop said. “This is it. This really will be Fresno’s team.”
It may be Fresno’s team, but Yallop’s fingerprints are all over the blueprints.
Yallop selected Fresno FC’s team colors (navy, sky blue and gold), brought aboard key front-office staff with ties to the local soccer community, negotiated an apparel deal with adidas and helped choose Foxes (Zorros in Spanish) as the club’s mascot and nickname.
Yallop hired Adam Smith from Sacramento Republic FC as the club’s head coach, signed a talented roster of players, including several with extensive domestic and international experience, and used his connections to secure an affiliation partnership with the MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps.
Behind the scenes, Yallop designed a new field layout at Chukchansi Park that brings fans closer to the action. He directed a staff that has sold more than 1,000 season tickets (so far) and inked partnership deals with the Fresno/Clovis Convention & Visitors Bureau and El Mexicano, the local Mexican food brand. What’s more, the club is close to an agreement with KMPH-26 to televise all 34 regular-season games, home and away.
So, yeah, it’s been a busy few months.
How have those efforts paid off? Nearly 1,100 fans (1,086, to be exact) were crammed into the Tioga-Sequoia beer garden on Friday night just to get a glimpse of the club’s uniforms.
“That’s for a jersey unveiling,” Yallop marveled. “No one’s kicking a soccer ball yet.”
Yallop, 53, was not in attendance. He and wife Karen were in Ipswich, the English town where they met during Frank’s 13-year tenure with Ipswich Town FC. The club honored Yallop in a pregame ceremony Saturday night by presenting him with a framed No. 19 jersey.
A rugged defender, Yallop was a popular figure who still gets recognized whenever he goes back. In 1993, when Yallop scored goals in back-to-back games after going four years without one, the headline of the local sports page read “Lightning strikes twice for Frank!”
Evidently, he and the headline writers were on a first-name basis. Even though Yallop insists he didn’t have “Frank” printed on the back of his jersey like some Brazilian soccer stars.
“There’s Pele, there’s Neymar and there’s Frank. What can you do?” cracked Chris Dangerfield, Yallop’s longtime friend who played on several North American Soccer League and Major Indoor Soccer League clubs.
Yallop went on to spend three seasons with Tampa Bay Mutiny of the MLS while also making 52 appearances for the Canadian National Team. (Yallop’s family immigrated from Watford, England, to Vancouver, British Columbia, when he was a teenager.)
In 2001, Yallop landed his first head coaching position with the Earthquakes and led the club to two MLS championships while mentoring a young Landon Donovan. He went on to coach the LA Galaxy, during the much-hyped tenure of David Beckham, before returning for a second stint with San Jose. Coaching stints with the Chicago Fire and Phoenix Rising FC followed.
With 130 coaching victories, Yallop ranks sixth on the MLS all-time list. He, Bruce Arena and Sigi Schmid are the only coaches in league history with at least two MLS titles and two coach of the year awards.
To a soccer start-up like Fresno FC, having a guy like Yallop running the operation brings instant credibility.
“It’s quite a thing when you have a guy with Frank’s résumé interested, willing and eager to come to Fresno and build this in the right way,” said assistant general manager Jeremy Schultz, who previously served as GM of the Fuego. “It’s a recipe for success.”
That sense trickles down to the players, several of whom indicated Yallop was the primary reason they signed.
“He’s an important name in the game of soccer,” said Juan Pablo Caffa, a 33-year-old midfielder who played two seasons in La Liga and several in his native Argentina. “He called me a couple times, told me about the project and got me excited about it.”
What got Yallop excited about Fresno? For one, a relationship with the owner. (“He’s a real soccer person,” Yallop said about Beshoff, a partner in Mercedes-Benz of Fresno.) Secondly, a strong sense that Fresno and the central San Joaquin Valley would really get behind a professional soccer club.
Fresno has a mixed history with professional sports. While the Fresno Falcons enjoyed a four-decade run, the Fresno Frenzy and Central Valley Coyotes each lasted only one season. Except neither hockey nor arena football can touch soccer’s surging popularity and demographics. (In 2012, the expansion fee for USL clubs was $250,000. By 2017, it was $5 million.)
Soccer fans have waited a long time for a pro club. Now that it’s almost here, the anticipation is thick.
“Fresno did a great job supporting the Fuego, but this is a different animal,” Yallop said. “This is the real stuff. And if you really get it going, the MLS will come knocking on your door.”
Fresno FC home debut
March 17: vs. Las Vegas Lights FC at Chukchansi Park
Tickets: fresnofc.com or (559) 320-2525