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Memphis 901FC claims first place, celebrate John Berner's return

The team has won their last four matches, including John Berner's first since rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2021.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis 901FC started the season strong. The team is in first place of the USL Eastern Conference for the first time in franchise history.

The Beale Street Boys are 8-2-1, have won four straight and are the current kings of the hill in the East. Ask around the club and you won’t find any shock.

"I think in preseason, we looked around and we're like, we have some good players like we can we can do some serious damage throughout the league this year," said forward Phillip Goodrum.

"I think you're never sure what to expect when you come in a team. But I think from day one, we all knew we had a deep team and we're not worried about anyone stepping up and playing," said midfielder Jeremy Kelly.

Kelly and Goodrum both joined the squad in 2022 and two of several newcomers to Memphis 901FC. Kelly leads the league in assists and Goodrum is Top 10 in goals.

Only five players are holdovers from last season, but it hasn’t affected team chemistry. In week 11 alone, five 901FC players picked up a USL Team of the Week nod, including Kelly and Goodrum.

Still manager Ben Pirmann, in his second year after removing the interim tag, preaches a consistent, patient approach.

"We're 11 games in so we're cautious. We're optimistic, but like I even have addressed it with the team today, we don't worry about results. They're not things that we can control. Our focus is our performances, our attitude, our effort," Pirmann said.

Nobody embodies the daily attitude and effort like goalkeeper John Berner, whose 2021 season had a setback. A ruptured Achilles in the first game of the year ended his season before it could get started. Berner initially feared the worst when he felt his leg pop.

"I thought that was it. I thought that was the career. I thought the story was over," Berner said.  "I don't know if you realize it or not, but I didn't get stretchered off. And I refused because I said, 'if this is the last time I ever stepped foot on a soccer field. I'm not going off on a stretcher.'"

After 340 days of commitment to return, he stepped between the pipes again on May 22 against Loudoun United FC and produced a clean sheet. He was given honorable mention for the USL's Team of the Week in his first game back.

"Mentally getting back to that point is, is like I said, 80 percent, half the battle, whatever you want to call it. It's a lot," Berner said.

His organization welcomed him back with open arms.

"How much he plays and all that doesn't matter. He's a massive part of this club. So I was proud for him. I was proud for his family. He's gone through a lot in his career. And the boys were really excited for him," Pirmann said.

Even Memphis 901FC Sporting Director Tim Howard showed excitement to see Berner back. The pair have known each other a long time dating back to when they were teammates for the Colorado Rapids.

"Everything you know has been taken away from you so you claw and scratch to get that back. There is a moment, there's a singular moment where all the hard work pays off and that match was it for JB on the weekend," Howard said. "Getting back out there would have been gratifying enough, but he got the rest of it and it speaks to his humility and it speaks to his hard work."

There are still 21 weeks left in the USL regular season and a long road ahead for Memphis 901FC, but so far so good. They play again June 4 against Atlanta United 2.

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