Without the heroics of Ron Baker and Fred van Vleet over the past four years for the Wichita State University basketball team, most people from outside the Midwest would have no idea what the biggest city in Kansas even is.
Unless you’re just really into aviation.
With the metropolitan Wichita area containing nearly 650,000 people, there has always been a space for a sports franchise with teams like the former KC Royals Double-A affiliate Wranglers, current indoor football Wichita Force, and the storied indoor soccer team Wichita Wings. All have had varied levels of success, but none have been able to capture the imagination of the cities people like the Wings did back during their 22-year existence between 1979 and 2001. At the time of the clubs folding, they were the oldest professional soccer club in the United States. This team featured heroes people still talk about today like Danish international Erik Rasmussen, US international Hernan “Chico” Borja, and former Liverpool player Kevin Kewley.
These legends of the game and those who have been involved with the sport of soccer in Wichita over the past decades have inspired a new outdoor club to be formed.
Welcome to FC Wichita.
We at Title Race had a chance to sit down with FC Wichita CEO Blake Shumaker and Director of Soccer Operations Larry Inlow to get some insight into this young club.
FCW is a club that was announced in 2013 and played their first season in 2015. They joined the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League) which is listed in the “fourth tier” of the US Soccer Pyramid and encompasses 81 teams from 29 different states around the country.
“I would say you have the MLS in tier one. Tier two would be a wash between the NASL (North American Soccer League) and the USL (United Soccer League),” Shumaker said, “In my mind that puts the NPSL and the PDL (Premier Development League) in the third division.”
Being a first year club is never an easy task, but it seems that on and off the pitch Blake, Larry, and the rest of the technical staff were able to deal with ups-and-downs of an overall successful season.
On the pitch, it could not have gone much better, as FCW won the NPSL South Central conference with an 11-3 record. The season only ended with a 3-1 loss in Myrtle Beach against the Mutiny in the South Regional Semi-Final.
The goals came in bunches from former USL/NASL attacking midfielder Matt Clare who picked up 12 goals and 5 assists in 15 appearances. The team was also buoyed by a solid defense led by goalkeeper Mauricio Vargas who only allowed .79 league goals per game over his 14 appearances. His incredible performances in net garnered attention from teams like FC Dallas and Sporting KC. However, at season's end the Costa Rican keeper earned a contract with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of the USL.
Two other huge honors the club was given after their inaugural season were All-NPSL 1st team awards for Clare and defender Kevin Ten Eyck. And for those who say the NPSL isn’t played at a high level, check out Ten Eyck’s goal of the season from beyond half field.
Eat your heart out Carly Lloyd indeed.
The 2015 season was a massive success, and Shumaker laid out exactly what they wanted to accomplish at season's beginning.
“Try to reach a US Open Cup.”
Qualified and their first round game will be held on May 11.
“Win a conference.”
“Have a guy go to the next level professionally.”
Vargas, thank you very much.
“Increase the registration for youth soccer participants in Wichita, and really start to bring the community into the game a little more.”
This has been witnessed firsthand by the local leagues and local sponsors they’ve become involved with. Their new apparel provider is Soccer Savings which is based out of Wichita. Many coaches and players have been involved for years in the youth coaching scenes here in the city as well. Also, having the support of local universities with high quality programs like Newman and Friends doesn’t hurt as well.
However, with all of these bright spots, there was one dark spot that the club was unfortunately forced to go through and that was the loss of their club captain, Abel “Shadow” Sebele.
“It’s a big loss for us on the soccer field, but it’s so much of a bigger loss for the community, and he had so many friends across the world as well,” Inlow said.
The Zimbabwean was crucial to their title-winning inaugural season and will be a difficult loss to overcome.
However, the 2016 season does look bright with the tryouts and friendly we were able to attend definitely showing promise. This new squad led by new coach John Markey, who has shown as a coach and a player to be of the highest pedigree. His experience at the college, semi-pro, and professional levels of the sport will be huge boons to his ability to replicate the Inlow-led team’s results from last year.
Throughout this summer’s season, Title Race will be side-by-side with FC Wichita, showing not only what a great club it is as a whole, but introducing you to the players and coaches in ways you don’t really get to see with your favorite teams.
So follow us and join the FCW family. We promise you will not regret it.
Photography by Cameron Smith