The bright lights of Major League Soccer are growing ever brighter. Considering the multi-million-dollar stars, the immensely impressive Mercedez-Benz Stadium and the massive fandom, Georgians may find it hard to look beyond Atlanta United FC – arguably the crown jewel of soccer statewide. However, drive 40 minutes west on the I-20 and head south on Route 113, and you’ll find a movement brewing in the lower leagues of the beautiful game – spearheaded by Carrollton’s Georgia Storm FC.
For Josh Bivens, a passion for soccer has been burning bright since childhood. A Douglasville native, Bivens started coaching 15 years ago, and after co-founding Georgia Storm FC in 2014 alongside Bill Rucker, he became The Storm’s Head Coach ahead of its inaugural 2021 NPSL season.
A member of a soccer family, it was Bivens’ father that sparked his love for the sport. “My dad was a collegiate player in the US at a time where soccer was very sparse, shall we say, so he got me interested in playing at a very young age,” Bivens says.
Bivens’ younger brothers, Stephen (current Georgia Storm FC General Manager) and Jacob, will also be familiar to fans of The Storm – with both playing under Bivens for the club in the 2021 season.
“It was very interesting, when Stephen was 17, 18, 19 I actually had an opportunity to coach him – I was head coach at our former high school,” Bivens says. “With my youngest brother Jacob, I had been involved as an assistant coach from the time he was about 12.
“However, with that said – coaching both of them at the same time was interesting,” Bivens continues. “Obviously having them involved in something we can all enjoy, and share was fun, but at the same time coaching your siblings has its own difficulties.”
Bivens’ Storm would have further difficulties at the beginning of the 2021 season.
“The first month was a bit of a rocky start,” says Bivens. “We lost our first league match (0-1 vs Georgia Revolution FC), we went and played a friendly against Peachtree City MOBA of the USL 2 and they hammered us (3-0) – so we had to buckle down.”
A look at the end-of-season standings showcases just how much The Storm did buckle down. The side finished the regular season with a 5-3-2 record, leaving them second in the NPSL East Region’s Southeast Conference – good enough for a place in the playoffs.
“While it was occurring, I probably didn’t truly understand how well we really were doing – yes, we landed a number of very high-profile players who have gone on and are now under professional contracts – but at the time it was ‘we have a good side, we’re doing well,’” says Bivens.
Throughout his career Bivens has coached a wealth of talented players, with USMNT’s George Bello providing a highlight. Among the notable players of Bivens’ 2021 Storm roster, however, it is impossible to ignore the renown of players like Hunter Jumper (former Chicago Fire FC defender), Kevin Barajas (former ATL UTD 2 midfielder) and Andrew Carleton (first-ever Atlanta United FC homegrown signing, current USL Championship player). The Storm’s impressive season continued into the playoffs, with a 2-1 victory over Appalachian FC securing the team a spot in the Conference Playoff Final – where its season would end with a 2-1 loss vs the Georgia Revolution FC.
“The ironic part of that final was – of all 12 matches of that season, the only one I went into halftime saying, ‘I feel confident we’re gonna win this match’ was that one,” says Bivens. After going into the break ahead 1-0, a Kevin Barajas red card in the second half gave Georgia Revolution a way back into the game. “The sending off changed it all from there, the boys fought, we tried – but came up just a little short unfortunately,” says Bivens.
The Storm’s exploits in the 2021 season booked it a place in the qualifiers for the 2022 edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The side would come up short once again against the Georgia Revolution, after a thrilling 2-2 tie in which Coach Bivens’ side would be beaten 4-2 on penalties.
“It was real unfortunate,” says Bivens. “That Open Cup match was, of any match I’ve ever coached in my career – I’ve coached about 15 years, everything from college matches, high school matches, youth matches and NPSL matches – that might have been the largest swings of emotion I’ve ever had.”
After the success of The Storm’s inaugural season, a 2-7-1 record saw Bivens’ side finish bottom of the Southeastern Conference in 2022.
“It was a good learning season, because we saw as a staff and an organization that these summer seasons at this level – because you’re not a true professional team – players are in and out a lot, so you have to manage expectations, you have to manage what happens when things aren’t going well,” says Bivens.
Looking ahead to the 2023 season, the team is hoping to go above and beyond their inaugural success.
“The bright feelings we’ve had around the club, we’ve put a target of winning the conference this season – we think we can do it,” Bivens says.
“We really want to give a good, strong soccer community to the areas where we’ve grown up – where we’ve built our lives,” says Bivens. “We’re hoping to grow and give back to the community.”