Professional team latest sign of soccer growth in Lansing area

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Soccer for the Michigan State Spartans has finished for this season. However, there is some buzz being created in the Lansing area.

Earlier this month, the Michigan State University men’s soccer team reached the NCAA championship semifinals for the first time since back-to-back titles in 1967 and 1968.

The MSU team’s success comes on the heals of an October announcement that a new professional soccer team, Lansing Ignite, will start play in 2019 at Lansing’s Cooley Law School Stadium as well as continued growth for amateur and youth soccer programs.

Together, it’s creating a new level of excitement for local soccer fans

“Getting to watch the Spartans play more soccer in the championship cup is amazing,” said Chris Mills, a Michigan State soccer fan and student. “I have been a fan since coming to school and have been waiting for the team to reach a championship game

“I am also excited that I now have more soccer to watch.”

The new professional team, Ignite, will play in the fledging USL League One, which starts play in the spring with 10 new clubs in the United States and Canada. The league will operate in the lowest of three tiers of professional soccer in the U.S. Major League Soccer, which has 24 teams in the U.S. and Canada, is the top tier.

Jeremy Sampson, vice president and general manager of Lansing Ignite, said he’s seen interest grow in the community for professional level soccer  He launched the Lansing United amateur soccer club in 2013 in East Lansing The team took in athletes like college students who were looking to hone their skills after the regular season was over.

The Lansing United men’s team ended play after the 2018 season, although a new women’s team will continue play in 2019.

“I started Lansing United five years ago and since then have seen tremendous growth,” Sampson said, “not only in numbers of youth players almost doubling, but the amount of people interested in watching the game of soccer and seeing it grow.”

Lansing Ignite will be the only professional-level outdoor soccer team in Michigan. The team will share Cooley Law School Stadium with the Lansing Lugnuts, a minor league baseball team.

“From a community standpoint there will be a major growth in downtown,” Sampson said. “Having a baseball team will supplement April through October. Having an event go on every weekend for the community to head to. Having another entity in this facility will give people who live, work and visit this area something to do.”

Jacob Beczkiewicz has been the stadium events assistant manager for four months. He works directly with the facility and special events and now will be working alongside of Lansing Ignite for their stadium operations.

Having a strong Lugnuts fan base will be an advantage for the new soccer team.

“Lugnuts fans will be interested in coming for games and cheering on the Lansing Ignite,” Beczkiewicz said. “Fans that have been around for awhile are types of people who want to support the stadium.”

Soccer also has been growing at lower levels.

Ian Kurth is the new head coach for the men’s Great Lake Christian Community College soccer team next fall. Kurth is also entering is second full season working at Hope Sports Complex with Chill SBC Soccer Club, a youth soccer organization. He grew up in St. Johns playing club soccer in the Lansing area from 2003 to 2007. When he was a club player there were two to three soccer clubs in the area.

“Here we are decade later and soccer has grown significantly with four effective clubs in or by Lansing,” said Kurth.

Bringing in a professional team like Lansing Ignite will help continue the growth of soccer in mid-Michigan, he said.

“It will be a very exciting time for youth players in the Lansing area and even the whole state,” said Kurth.

Josh Holliday, director of marketing for Lansing Ignite ., said he has noticed a lot of excitement all around for a professional sports team to emerge in the area.“More parents are putting their kids in soccer and overall are embracing and supporting this game and through that we have gained a great response,” Holliday said. “The young kids watching these games are the future for professional athletes and through this we are gaining support and passion for soccer.” said Holiday.