NESN broadcaster Tom Caron, a graduate of Lewiston High School, joined the group working to bring professional soccer to Portland as a minority owner. Tribune News Service

NESN broadcaster Tom Caron has joined the group working to bring professional soccer to Portland as a minority owner.

Caron, 59, said his decision to become part of the USL to Portland investor team is rooted in two personal sports experiences.

“I love soccer. I love Portland,” said Caron, 59, a Lewiston native best known as the longtime studio host for NESN’s Boston Red Sox broadcasts. “Some of my favorite memories are playing soccer in Maine and working for the Pirates in Portland and I just felt what a great idea it is to bring a pro soccer team to Maine.”

Caron was the Portland Pirates’ vice-president of communications for the franchise’s first two years of operation. He was a goalkeeper at Lewiston High, where he graduated in 1982, and still holds the school record for the lowest goals-against average.

Caron is joining a group, headed by founder Gabe Hoffman-Johnson, that has been actively working with the United Soccer League since 2019 to bring a USL1 expansion franchise to Portland. Hoffman-Johnson, a Falmouth native, was a two-time high school soccer All-American at Falmouth and former captain of the Dartmouth men’s soccer team. Jonathan and Catherine Culley, owners of Portland-based Redfern Properties, are principal owners. Caron’s involvement was announced Tuesday.

Caron is a regular columnist for the Portland Press Herald.


Caron said over a period of years he has learned more about USL possibly coming to Portland and had regular conversations with Hoffman-Johnson. At a dinner with USL Chief Operating Officer Justin Papadakis, Caron heard first-hand how committed the league is to having a team in Portland.

“The USL is super excited about Portland. That’s a big thing for me,” Caron said.

Caron believes a professional soccer team can be a source of community pride and a unifying force across Portland’s diverse population, similar to how Lewiston came together in support of its high school boys’ soccer team that included many players who had immigrated to Maine from Somalia and other African countries.

“Soccer is unique in its ability to bring together different groups,” Caron said. “From native Mainers, to new Mainers, to fourth-generation Mainers and that’s exactly what happened in Lewiston. If I can help get the word out a little bit … it would be super cool.”

USL1 is a third-tier professional league that targets markets with a population base between 150,000-to-1 million The league officially endorsed Portland as an expansion site in 2021.

Major League Soccer (MLS) is the only first-tier league in the United States. USL Championship is the only second-tier league.


USL1 had 11 teams in the 2022 season. Expansion franchises in Lexington, Kentucky, and Knoxville, Tennessee, will join in 2023. Teams in Santa Barbara, California, and Spokane, Washington are slated to start play in 2024.

The USL to Portland group also wants to start play in 2024. To make that happen it first needs to come to an agreement with the City of Portland to use city-owned Fitzpatrick Stadium, which it has targeted as its future home since January.

Hadlock Field and the Portland Expo, the respective homes of the Portland Sea Dogs and Maine Celtics, are also city-owned properties.

In Tuesday’s announcement, the USL group stated its plan to “make significant capital investments to enhance the player and fan experience” at Fitzpatrick Stadium and that it “aims to finalize a non-exclusive agreement with the city in (the first quarter) of 2023.”

“It’s still going to have high schools using it, youth teams using it,” Hoffman-Johnson told the Press Herald. “A good comparison is the Maine Celtics’ agreement. There’s a lot of stuff that still goes on at the Expo. It’s not just the Celtics’ facility.”

To meet the USL field size standard of 70 yards by 110 yards, the outdoor track would need to be removed and the field widened. Recently, speculation has increased that the USL has told the Portland group it could use Fitzpatrick’s current configuration – at least initially.


“My response is there are some details we still need to work through. Our discussions with the city and the league have recently been very, very encouraging and our main focus is providing a professional quality experience at a viable stadium and the goal is to do that at Fitzpatrick Stadium,” Hoffman-Johnson said.

In October, the city’s Housing and Economic Development committee held a 90-minute executive session to discuss the USL to Portland’s business plan. Hoffman-Johnson said he expects USL to Portland to be back on the HEDC’s agenda in January for public discussion.

In the meantime, the USL to Portland group will continue with outreach efforts in Portland. On Friday at 2 p.m., the group, working with Portland Downtown, will host an outdoor World Cup viewing party in Monument Square for the USA vs. England game.

“We’ve been building a lot of momentum the last few months and bringing Tom on board and hosting this event on Friday will be exciting,” Hoffman-Johnson said.

Comments are no longer available on this story