When classes wrap up at Michigan State each spring, the world of Mid-Michigan sports slows considerably. But that will change this summer. This year, Lansing-area sports fans will have a new team to cheer for.
Lansing is now home to a National Premier Soccer League team. Lansing United will debut this summer, hosting their home games at the 700-seat East Lansing Soccer Complex.
Bringing a team to the Mitten
Former Lansing sportscaster and team founder Jeremy Sampson had been thinking about bringing a soccer club to Lansing for a while.
“It’s something that I have been looking at for a couple of years and with 2014 being a World Cup year, this seemed like the perfect year to start a team in Lansing.”
The United will play in the NPSL’s Great Lakes Division, which includes two other Michigan teams, Detroit City FC and Michigan Stars. NPSL commissioner Michael Hitchcock had good things to say about both Michigan’s soccer pedigree.
“Michigan is an important market for the NPSL. With the addition of Lansing United, we’re adding a great owner in a great market. We’re excited for the 2014 NPSL season and watching the game continue to grow in Michigan.”
Local talent abounds
Head coach Eric Rudland, a Jackson native with nearly 10 years of international, club, and college-level coaching experience, said he is excited to help build an expansion franchise from scratch.
“[It’s a] blank slate to build something special from the ground up and an opportunity to positively impact the local soccer community,” said Rudland, who spent the last three years coaching in the Mitten with the men’s and women’s teams at Spring Arbor University and the Michigan Bucks of the PDL.
Rudland is focusing his recruiting efforts almost exclusively on Mitten-grown talent, with players committed from Michigan State, Western Michigan, Kalamazoo College, and Spring Arbor. He’s hoping for additional commitments from players at Saginaw Valley, Detroit Mercy, and Oakland.
Sampson said that the team’s uniform designs are being finalized and will be revealed within the next month. Rudland said some roster announcements will be announced soon and team tryouts will be held in March and April.
Community is eating it up
The season begins in May and runs through July. Sampson said the community has lined up to support local soccer players.
“The community has been fantastic in their response,” said Sampson. He said that the team has sold more than 120 season tickets months before the roster and the schedule are finalized. Season ticket holders get a bonus with their purchase: a snazzy Lansing United scarf, traditional garb among true “futbol” fans.
While waiting for the action to kick off in May, Lansing United fans can pick up team gear at Michigan Shirt Works in downtown East Lansing.
Soccer in Michigan
Soccer has been growing in popularity across the country over the last three decades, and our beautiful state has not been left out of that growth. Pro and semi-pro indoor and outdoors teams have played in Michigan since the 1980s, beginning with the Dearborn Stars and Kalamazoo Kangaroos. Since then teams have popped up in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Metro Detroit.
Lansing United has a budding rivalry with Detroit City FC, trading occasional barbs over social media. But Sampson said that while there is plenty of public ribbing, there is also collaboration behind the scenes.
“The ownership [at DCFC] has been very helpful for me in this first year,” said Sampson. “Between the lines we all want to win but the league has the stance that we are all in it to grow the game, so we are always sharing ideas.”
One Michigan Soccer team for all, and all Michigan soccer teams for one. That’s Mitten Love.
-Kevin Duffy, Contributing Writer