Soccer for Everyone

By | October 17, 2013

I grew up in central Indiana, and despite the fact that we had an amazing soccer team in high school, there were maybe fifteen students at the state quarter finals, which we lost. So imagine my shock when I found out that Indianapolis was joining the North American Soccer League with their own team, IndyEleven.  Sure, we all played little league outside our suburban homes.  But soccer in the midwest remains largely a niche sport, not nearly as popular as football, and it doesn’t hold a candle to Indiana’s trademark sports: basketball and NASCAR racing.

Yet somehow, in 2014, Indianapolis will have its own team, owned by Keystone Construction Corporation’s president Ersal Ozdemir, a Turkish immigrant who found his home in Indianapolis.  It’s already recruited its first player: the German goalie Kristian Nicht.  Although the intention of the Indiana team was to have big ties to Indiana, they’re starting to recruit from all over.  At their first try-outs, 90% of players were from the state.  Since then, players have come from all over the world to throw their hat into the ring for this tiny team.  And 6,000 season tickets have already been sold.

But the club is not without problem.  Indianapolis doesn’t have a soccer stadium; IndyEleven will share IUPUI’s already existing soccer fields.  In addition, one of its prospective players, Felix Achoch, was killed outside of a night club just days before his try-out.  And finally, the club will have to overcome the lack of soccer fanaticism that the club’s owner desires to create.  The club’s owner has expressed a desire to appeal to youth and high school teams in urban Indianapolis.  But looking at the IHSAA state champions over the past twenty years, winners tend to be Indianapolis private schools or public schools in wealthy suburbs.  It’ll be hard to connect with high schoolers who already see soccer as less important than other sports.

But in spite of this, owners, coaches, and the one player currently on the team remain optimistic about the sport in Indiana.  Their season starts in the spring of 2014, and only time will tell if a professional soccer team has actual staying power in city ruled by the warring houses of Bobby Knight and Dario Franchitti.

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