Being Vermont Green: Saving the Planet & Building a Mini Soccer Superpower One Game at a Time

Vermont Green FC head into their first U.S. Open Cup with huge ambitions, a motivated fanbase and a not-insignificant impulse to save the world.
By: Michael Battista

Vermont Green FC may be new to the scene, but here they are in the U.S. Open Cup.

Debutants in our historic tournament, the USL League Two club from New England boast an ambitious (and admirable) mission statement to protect the planet, a devoted fanbase both in the stands and farther afield – and a staff chock full of national soccer experience that’s seen the Green blossom, suddenly, into a minor superpower.

 

When the team takes the field against USL League One’s Lexington SC on March 19th, it will be a culmination of huge effort and focused energy. It’s a date with a professional team for the guys up north who hug trees and score goals.

 

Mayhem in the Mountains

 

When defender Jake Ashford learned about a new soccer team getting started in Vermont, he was interested immediately. Even though he was a Kansas native playing out of Creighton University, it only took one phone call for him to get hooked.

 

“We had a call with the coaches and the owners before that first summer, and from the minute that call happened, I knew it was gonna be [something],” said Ashford, team captain now for two seasons running. “I've been at different USL teams. I just knew [this] was gonna be different and, quite frankly, better.

“Just a lot of people, a lot more people are gonna care about it,” sensed Ashford.

 

His faith was justified. The leadership team behind Vermont Green included plenty of people with plenty of soccer experience – at many levels. The head coach, Adam Pfeifer, was a two-time champion in the old Premier Developmental League (now USL League Two) and had an impressive resume of college coaching.

Green has tapped into something big around Burlington / Photo Vermont Green FC

And then there’s the litany of team co-founders – most with deep backgrounds in the sport, and all creatively inclined – filling out the front office.

 

So going into that first season in the summer of 2022, there was a lot of potential.

 

But Ashford can still remember the worries he and the other co-founders had ahead of the home kickoff back in 2022. For how much work he and the team had put in, it was a leap of faith going into that fateful game against Black Rock FC.

 

“What if like 30 people show up?” he remembered. “What if it's almost like being in a band and you're like, hey, we're playing this big show, we booked the big venue. God, I hope somebody shows up to watch us play because otherwise (we’re) gonna look really dumb.”

 

Over 1,000 people turned up to Virtue Field.

 

A State Ready For Fandom

 

Tyler Littwin remembers being in the stands for that first game. A New Englander by birth, he knew how much the state yearned for a team to rally around. But seeing the first game in-person helped him realize just how much people cared.

 

“I saw the announcement that there was a USL [League] Two [team] coming, which got me really excited,” Littwin said. “More and more info came out, about their core mission and their focus and who was involved in terms of the founders and their backgrounds. Everyone got more and more interested in what was gonna happen and being part of it.”

Vermont Green FC are heading into their 3rd USL League Two Season / Photo Vermont Green FC

So Littwin started the Green Mountain Bhoys, the team’s official supporter’s group, even before a ball was kicked. Named after both the American Revolutionary War militia from Vermont and the famous Celtic F.C. fanbase, Littwin admits it started off as a joke.

 

“I created some social channels for it and I love just making silly to dumb graphics for things… And then it seemed like there was a certain level of genuine interest,” he explained.

“[Around the time of] the first game, I put out a note: ‘Let's grab a beer at the local brewery and see what we can do.’ So we got to the Burlington Beer Company and I think there's like 15 to 20 people who showed up.”

 

That support has sustained, and grown, over two seasons. The team’s average attendance has ballooned to over 2,000 fans per game at Virtue Field – and 2024 season tickets have officially sold out.

 

Pfeifer, who now serves as the club’s sporting director, was always impressed with how much his players performed in front of the crowd. But he also knows it’s a double-edged sword.

 

“I think it is a tremendous environment. But it has kind of put a bullseye on our back where we get sort of everybody's best performance and most teams will prepare a little bit differently coming into our field,” said Pfeifer.

Crowds at Virtue Field have been massive / Vermont Green FC

Ashford echoed his head coach’s thoughts. The defender has played at both the top college and USL League Two level and always takes time to look up in the stands during a game.

 

“[The fans] have their phones down and they're actually engaged in watching the games. From the kids all the way up to the oldest people there,” said Ashford. “That's not something I feel like you see very often anymore and…it just makes it that much more worthy of playing as hard as you can.”

 

Doing Soccer ‘Different’

 

Many soccer teams have causes they support, especially around environmental protection. Only Vermont Green has its entire identity based around an eco-friendly stance.

 

If you ask Matthew Wolff, one of the team’s co-founders, he would say he has the greatest job in the world. The graphic designer, whose resume includes creating brands for teams like New York City FC in Major League Soccer and the universally acclaimed Oakland Roots SC of the USL Championship, has had a front row seat in the development of team identities – the things that form connections between a fanbase and organization.

 

And as the COVID-19 pandemic wore on, the idea began to form in his head about making his own football club.

 

“One that was more mission driven,” Wolff explained. “I'm deeply concerned about the future of our planet and the people on our planet. And my work experience is in football so I wanted to kind of see if there was an opportunity to marry those two things.”

 

Green FC aims to become a net zero emissions entity, and every decision it makes goes through an environmental justice lens. Everything from how merchandise is produced to how players get to games. In 2022, the team joined One Percent for the Planet, an international organization whose members contribute at least one percent of their annual revenue to environmental causes.

 

The team’s causes don’t just stop at the environment. Social platforms such as anti-racism and equality are also high on the team’s priority list.

 

These values have directly contributed to the companies Green chooses to work with – including fellow Vermont business and social justice sponsors Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

 

In the stands, Littwin says the entire cause has had a direct impact on the community. From seeing more fans noticing their environmental footprint to seeing organizations and figureheads using the influence of the club to help push change.

 

“[We’re] raising awareness around certain issues and getting people plugged into resources and getting folks connected with organizations that can help them,” said Littwin. “If you think about Vermont Green as being sort of like this nexus that connects all these distinct parts of Vermont, they are extremely successful at that.”

The Green’s USOC debut comes against pros Lexington SC / Photo Vermont Green FC

That nexus even includes the players, something Pfeifer has seen over his time with the group.

 

“There's educational opportunities for our players. I think that after having spent a full summer with us most of the guys come back with a better appreciation for the things that the club is preaching,” Pfeifer said. “A little bit of extra education.

 

“It's pretty unique from that standpoint, the club really follows through on what the guiding values are and it's a very big part of everyday life with Vermont Green,” he added.

 

Vermont & The USOC

 

There has never been a match featuring a professional soccer team, on record, in the state of Vermont. Since the start of the Modern Era (1995 to present) there has never been a U.S. Open Cup match played in the state either. Both of those facts will change later this month.

 

“It's something that this community and honestly the entire state of Vermont has craved for a long time based on what I've seen,” Ashford said of the Open Cup debut for Vermont Green – who qualified for the tournament’s 109th edition via an at-large bid as a result of their 2023 regular season points-per-game tally.


“We're gonna do everything that we can to put a team together that could be competitive in that First Round,” Pfeifer said, hoping to align the on-field product with the passion in the stands and drive of the front office. “We'll go into that game trying to win it and we'll see what happens.”

“There's no doubt that there's gonna be hundreds, if not thousands of fans at these games because they just care that much,” Ashford added.

 

The only team from The Green Mountain State to compete in the tournament was the Vermont Voltage in 2014. The Premier Development League (current day USL League Two) side lost on the road in the first round.

 

Lexington SC will be walking into a different type of environment on March 19th. As Virtue Field rocks, potentially with thousands of fans cheering on Vermont Green, they might begin to truly understand what they are up against.

 

For Wolff, he hopes the team on the other side of the field brings their mittens. But he also knows how important this game is – for every person who’s given something to the team, from their time to their money. But also, on the field, a good Open Cup performance can do wonders for a regular season.

 

“We see it as a huge opportunity to build momentum on the pitch, but also in the stands,” said Wolff. “If we can put a performance together in this match it's gonna do wonders for our squad and the spirit in the squad and within the club as we go into season three with high ambitions.”

And no one knows better than these folks at Vermont Green FC the potential power of inspiration’s spark.

Michael Battista is an award-winning journalist and regular contributor to TheCup.us, Hudson River Blue, & New York Sports Nation. Follow him at @MichaelBattista on Twitter/X