'Art inspires art, and one could make the argument that a soccer team is a work of art.'
Today's interview is brought to you by For the Love of Futbol. For the Love of Futbol is a blog dedicated to covering the lower level soccer scene in the Midwestern United States, and this site will give you a little bit of everything. Player profiles, team updates, interviews and more with teams like Grand Rapids FC and Detroit City FC. Check them out at ftlofutbol.com to read more and keep up with the exploding Midwestern soccer scene.
What's up AP readers! It's the first truly cold morning in Kansas City, and took us until December 1 to get it. Today's interview is a little different then normal. Muskegon Risers, who will be playing in the Premier League of America this year, wanted to keep things team focused, so there isn't actually a name attached to this interview. In fact, until we get to the short form questions about books and tournaments, everything in this interview is solely focused on the team itself. Check it out.
Lets start with some basics. How did Muskegon Risers come into being? What's the teams 'origin story?'
The origin of Muskegon Risers SC parallels the current resurgence of the Muskegon Lakeshore community. Muskegon is located on Lake Michigan, with Muskegon Lake being the only deep water port on Michigan’s west coast. Muskegon first prospered during the 19th century Lumber Era. Through the 20th century, Muskegon became a strong manufacturing center. As with other cities throughout Michigan, many manufacturers moved away from Muskegon and the area was left with pockets of underutilized infrastructure. In the early 2000’s, people throughout Muskegon started several creative initiatives to revitalize the Muskegon Lakeshore. In January of 2014, Muskegon Risers SC was created to help further this movement, with the purpose of promoting positive social and economic change along the Muskegon Lakeshore through the game of soccer.
So the team has really been born out of a larger movement promoting civic pride and responsibility?
Sports teams, athletes and coaches across the US, whether at the local or national level, have the unique privilege of attracting attention. Our fundamental belief is that with the privilege of this platform, the Muskegon Risers have a responsibility to represent and promote the positive ideals of our community.
How has the community responded to the team so far?
Community support has tremendously exceeded our expectations. We have developed strong partnerships with a variety of local businesses, while an independent supporter group has formed called the Port City Supporters. We attribute this to our clear branding and commitment to the Muskegon Lakeshore community.
What league has the team being playing in? Or have you been more of an exhibition side since starting in 2014?
As a startup, it was very important to us to have complete creative control of our business model during the first 3 years of operation. Joining a league, to us, is a serious long term commitment. Subsequently, in the summer of 2015 and 2016, we played an independent schedule. During the winter of 2015/16 we also played two indoor games in L.C. Walker Arena, a 5,500 seat arena which is located in downtown Muskegon... two blocks from Muskegon Lake and a mile from Lake Michigan. Both of our outdoor and indoor ventures gained substantial momentum, and in 2017 we will be playing indoors in the Premier Arena Soccer League and outdoors in the Premier League of America.
What prompted the move to join the Premier League of America? And why not join another league, like the National Premier Soccer League or Premier Development League?
The Premier League of America has earned the reputation of a grassroots league by empowering its teams at the local level, while also demonstrating a high-level of professionalism and sustainability over its first two seasons of play. When considering the identity of Muskegon Risers SC coupled with the Premier League of America’s vision, there is a clear long-term fit.
Since you guys are so community focused, are you going to rely on local players more then college players, or will it be a mix like Minneapolis City is trying to do?
We have identified a healthy balance between local and non-local talent for both our arena and outdoor rosters. Our local players provide a core understanding of what this team means to the community, while the non-local players offer fresh perspectives that are crucial to the overall development of our program. Along the same lines, we have a fairly even balance between college and former college players. During the PASL season, however, our entire roster will be comprised of former college players.
It seems there are a lot of amateur teams that have ambition to do and be more than a summer team, but are overly reliant on college over local talent and wind up hamstrung. What's the story behind the teams logo? It's simple, but very vibrant.
As the sport continues to grow and teams across the country gain more access to quality local non-college talent, there will be less reliance on college players at the lower-division level of U.S. Soccer's pyramid. A larger pool of homegrown talent isn't enough, though, when discussing soccer as a viable business. We are also witnessing a generation of former soccer players who have fused their passion for the game with business skills to create teams in markets that formerly couldn't sustain lower-division soccer. This generation has also increased the support of soccer across the US, and as a result we are experiencing synergy between grass root teams and local support. In Muskegon, the Risers have mindfully created a brand to genuinely resonate with our community. Our logo is simple, unique and recognizable... it cuts against convention and has a more . Rise and Grind, our mantra, is a way to simply represent the Spirit and Ethic of our community.
As the sport continues to grow and teams across the country gain more access to quality local non-college talent, there will be less reliance on college players at the lower-division level of U.S. Soccer's pyramid. A larger pool of homegrown talent isn't enough, though, when discussing soccer as a viable business. We are also witnessing a generation of former soccer players who have fused their passion for the game with business skills to create teams in markets that formerly couldn't sustain lower-division soccer. This generation has also increased the support of soccer across the US, and as a result we are experiencing synergy between grass root teams and local support.
In Muskegon, the Risers have mindfully created a brand to genuinely resonate with our community. Our logo is simple, unique and recognizable... it cuts against convention. Rise and Grind, our mantra, is a way to simply represent the Spirit and Ethic of our community. Our "Rise" kit colors are green and blue to reflect our community's creativity and the vibrant natural beauty of our lakeshore, while the "Grind" kit is silver and black, representing our community's toughness and the area's industrial heritage. A Riser is someone who understands our community's potential and who pushes themselves and others to realize that potential. Our 'Risers' name was inspired by the 'Muskegon, Together Rising' sculpture that stands in the heart of downtown Muskegon. Risers are not limited to an era, industry or ethnicity. Muskegon Risers SC strives to represent the spirit of our area's people in past, present and future tense. This deliberate branding on the business side, paired with a growing number of soccer supporters on the Muskegon Lakeshore, has created a viable market for lower-division soccer in our community.
Do you think as more teams like Muskegon, pardon my pun, rise, that it will get easier and easier for teams to draw more from high quality, local talent?
Yes. Downtown Muskegon has many sculptures, murals, and other works of art integrated within the city. The motivation is that 'art inspires art', and one could make the argument that a soccer team is a work of art. There is already, we believe, a large pool of untapped quality local talent across the country. When a team is created, it becomes destination for these players and it is only natural that the players will be drawn to their local team with relative ease.
Since you guys have already been around for a couple of years, I imagine you've got some higher expectations for your first season in the PLA. What are you're team goals for the first outdoor league season?
We are a very competitive group and none of us enter any form of competition not expecting to win. First, we expect to win the PASL title this winter. Next summer, we expect to win the PLA title and in doing so qualify for Open Cup play. The standard for our program is to compete at a very high level, playing to win one game at a time.
Where do you hope to see the team 5 years from now?
The model we have established for 2017 is our long-term plan.
Winning is a good goal. You guys have a little bit of a different ownership model than the other teams in the PLA in that you really try to keep things focused on the team and not the people running it. Why is that?
There are pros and cons to individual versus group ownership and every team is facing unique challenges depending on their market. Ultimately, when we discuss ownership, the conversation is more about leadership. Our leadership believes in empowering people through service. The objective is to do everything we can to maximize the potential of our players, coaches, business partners, supporters, and the Muskegon Lakeshore community overall. When implemented effectively, this leadership approach places a central focus on the team’s ideals and purpose within the community… as no individual is more important than the team. This is a practice of stewardship, not ownership.
Stewardship is a great way to look at it. How does that mindset change your approach to the team?
Creative control is an invaluable asset to a startup. Accountability and responsibility are just as important on an organizational level. Our current structure is designed to eliminate diffusion of responsibility, which allows the business to adapt and advance quickly. That said, when there is effective leadership, everyone involved has a voice. The term 'board' is formality that represents collaborative thinking, which our team and community's culture naturally promotes.
Are there any games in particular that you are really looking forward to now that you'll be in the PLA?
Every game on our schedule is important, so one doesn't standout versus another in our minds. We are definitely looking forward to the comprehensive PASL and PLA experiences.
Ready for some shorter questions to start winding this down?
Favorite league and/or team to watch for fun?
The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers of MLS. Very entertaining supporter cultures and on-field products. We try to support US soccer whenever possible!
Favorite players, one past, one present?
Kaka from the past... he's no longer himself. Presently, Neymar.
Would you rather attend the World Cup, Euros, or Asian Cup?
Do you have any books, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend to people?
The Art Instinct.
What do you want to say to the people reading this about why it's important to get out there and support the local team?
Support with a passion for the game and your local community. Bring your friends and introduce others to soccer at the local level, even if they aren't 'soccer people'. Soccer is a simple game and highly accessible. Because of this, soccer can seamlessly integrate into local American culture, but not without your support.
I'd like to say thank you to the owners at Muskegon for taking the time speak with me and do this interview. Remember, if you are enjoying the weekly content coming out on AP you can Follow AP on Twitter, or Like AP on Facebook. And if you want make sure you never miss an interview, and want to read articles before everyone else, click here and sign up for the Newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road.
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