By Claire Byun
It started out as a defensive struggle, then it was just a struggle for the New Orleans Jesters as they felt their first loss this season.
The Jesters were taken down by Interforce Nashville FC in the Southeast Conference final game Saturday evening. Nashville moves on to the South Region semifinal, and the Jesters move on to rebuilding a team next year.
“I’m very proud of them,” Head Coach Kenny Farrell said after the loss. “It’s a disappointment to say the least, but we had a good showing all season.”
The Jesters clinched the Southeast conference with an undefeated regular season earlier this month, winning against Atlanta in the conference semifinals Friday night. Nashville won 3-0 Saturday night at Pan American Stadium, scoring the first goal on a penalty kick from what fans called a “questionable call.” Jesters’ defense Adeoye Olumuyiwa was issued a red card, leaving the team a man down throughout the second half.
Nashville scored two more goals – one in the last minute of the game – leaving the Jesters defeated. The fans, however, felt differently.
Jeff Hotard, who started supporting the team in 2014, said he’s stuck with the Jesters through countless losses and this season’s exhilarating wins all for the love of New Orleans.
“I want to help New Orleans grow, and having a soccer team contributes to that,” Hotard said.
Hotard said he hopes the Jesters’ undefeated regular season draws more people to the games next year, especially since the crowd grew to more than 2,000 spectators during the last two games.
In a city with a professional football and basketball teams – and a minor league baseball team – diehard Jesters fans are working toward earning the same kind of respect and admiration of those larger teams. Duncan Mantooth, who’s attended every single home game for four years, said having a homegrown team only adds to New Orleans culture.
Going undefeated helps, too.
“This year has been incredible,” Mantooth said. “I really think we could have had it if it wasn’t for that questionable call.”
Moving forward, coach Farrell said he’ll let the team “soak it up a little bit” and then start building for next year. Hopefully this season has garnered enough interest in the team to also build on the steady fan base, he added.
“The community behind the team has been phenominal,” Farrell said. “I think we have a chance to build something new next year, and we have very passionate fans, so we want to please them.”