PantherU

Want pro soccer in Milwaukee? Go to college.

There’s a storm brewing in the Milwaukee area. It is calm right now, but the winds of change are on their way. The next great American sport is the world’s sport, and Milwaukee has a growing movement – not unlike those in most major sports cities and many cities that are not – to bring professional soccer to the city.

Milwaukee seems to be a smart fit. The weather in the summer is wonderful, there is only one sports team to compete with (Brewers), and participation in the sport, especially in the western suburbs, is off the charts.

So what can Milwaukeeans do to get the team started? For one, there’s a grassroots campaign started by the Milwaukee Outdoor Pro Soccer Alliance (MOPSA) that runs events in the area and talks up the prospective team on social media.

There’s also the Milwaukee Soccer Development Group, which runs soccer-themed events to raise money for youth equipment and teams in the area and tries to get the sport going from the ground up.

Even the Brewers are doing their part, announcing a match on July 16th between Chivas Guadalajara and Swansea City for Wednesday, July 16th at Miller Park.  The match should be a great way to gauge general interest in soccer for the city of Milwaukee.

But it seems like something is missing. Milwaukee needs a Peter Wilt, the former GM of the Chicago Fire, who just started yet another franchise, the NASL’s Indy Eleven. Those in the know are aware that he tried, unsuccessfully, almost a decade ago to make it happen in Milwaukee. Ten years make a load of difference, however. The tides are changing. Soccer is here to stay in this country, and both MLS and NASL are organized to survive and thrive.

How do people in Milwaukee show that this city is ready for prime time?

My solution is simple: if you want outdoor spectator soccer in this city, support outdoor spectator soccer in this city.

For regular readers of PantherU, this is not the kind of sentence that would bring quizzical looks. But this is likely going to reach outside the normal PantherU audience, so it bears explanation.

You want pro soccer in Milwaukee. I want pro soccer in Milwaukee. We have to show demonstrated, concerted effort towards building a soccer fan base in Milwaukee that will bring investors champing at the bit to bring that pro soccer team to the city.

So if you want it, support what you’ve got. What you’ve got is the Milwaukee Panthers and Marquette Golden Eagles. College soccer is on the rise, especially since college football is starting to falter. Going to the Miller Park match on July 16th will only go so far. Following a team over the course of a full season, supporting the same way they would for the pro team.

Why? Because you have to show investors that this market is ready for the big time. When the Portland Timbers came to MLS, their USL team’s attendance was a huge factor. So was the support group of the Portland Pilots in the West Coast Conference, which showed there were more fans to be had for an MLS franchise.

Orlando City will make the same move that the Timbers did, dropping their USL franchise and reforming as an MLS club for next season.

Having the Swansea City vs. Chivas match will be excellent for exposing top-level soccer to the Milwaukee area. But franchises like Portland and Orlando City came to be in MLS because they had consistent attendance through full seasons as lower division teams.

We could do what we can to try and get a USL Pro team in Milwaukee, and go the same route. But why waste valuable time when we have the Milwaukee Panthers and Marquette Golden Eagles playing top-level college soccer right here in the city right now?

This is my challenge, to all of you out there who want to see Milwaukee gain a franchise in MLS or NASL: put your money where your mouth is and start backing Milwaukee and Marquette on the pitch.

Valley Fields just got a real nice upgrade (I’m not sure if the sewage smell is gone though) and Engelmann Stadium is one of the true gems of college soccer. Tickets are cheap for both teams, with Marquette going for $40 and Milwaukee going for $1 per game with groups over 20 (there’s no season ticket option available yet for Milwaukee that isn’t attached to men’s basketball season tickets). MOPSA could probably organize it – you could get 20 fans to put in a buck a game (8 regular season home matches means $8 per person, the exhibitions against Creighton and Parkside are free).

Soccer is definitely on the rise, and Milwaukee could be the home to a legitimate pro franchise down the road. But this city is going to need to do some real work supporting what we have in front of our noses if that is to become reality.

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