Playing with fire

FC Wichita, the city's new soccer team, looks to win now.

Written by Joe Stumpe

Larry Inlow is used to dousing fires, but he’s hoping to light one under the soccer scene in Wichita. Inlow is coach of FC Wichita, which played its first two games in the outdoor National Premier Soccer League last month. He’s also a Wichita firefighter and father of two boys who credits his wife, Nikki, for being “my rock and inspiration that allows me to do all these things.”

Inlow promises FC Wichita will gives its all on the field and be a big part of the community off it. Of course, most coaches say the same thing, but when it comes out of Inlow’s mouth, you tend to believe it. A former professional soccer player himself, Inlow has loved the game since he was a kindergartner in Wichita. He’s using the contacts he’s made in the sport to put together a team capable of competing in the NPSL.

“I want a team that, if all else fails, will use their wits and strength both physically and mentally and working until the last whistle,” he said. “Add in their talent on top of that and I think we will be a very strong team.”

FC Wichita is made up primarily of amateur college- and post-college-age players whose dream is to play at even higher levels. Some are local, but many come from other countries and continents. The 83-team league stretches across the entire nation; FC Wichita is competing in a conference pitting it against teams from Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Joplin and Tulsa.

FC Wichita is playing a 16-game schedule, with its home games taking place at Stryker Soccer Complex in northeast Wichita under an agreement with the city. There’s seating for about 2,000 people and room for maybe twice that many in the future.

Tickets are $9 per game, $50 for the season package. Among the team’s top talents coming out of training camp, Inlow said, several players stood out. One is Matt Clare, who recently won an indoor World Cup championship with the U.S. team this spring.

Abel Sebele, known as “Shadow” for his ability to haunt opponents, is another. Inlow predicted that Ethiopia native Iyassu Bekele would become a fan favorite because of his small stature, speed and “insane ball skills. He’s going to be somebody all the kids will identify with.” Nick Cramer is a Wichita Northwest High product who made all-conference as a freshman with the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The team’s first signee is a “hard tackler and hard worker,” Inlow said approvingly. Another local connection is goalkeeper Mauricio Vargas, originally from Costa Rica and expected to start for Friends University next season. Vargas recruited himself to Wichita, sending Inlow a videotape of him playing for Costa Rica’s U18 and U20 FIFA World Cup team. He’s 6-foot-4 “and I would imagine his wingspan is at least that,” Inlow said.

High-level outdoor soccer will be a switch for Wichita fans used to seeing the game played indoor. The games will be outside in the fresh air, and there will be twice as many players on the pitch to watch at once.

Inlow said the NPSL is two tiers below major league professional soccer teams such as Sporting Kansas City, calling it “kind of like double A ball” in professional baseball—although the league is careful to maintain players’ amateur status.

FC Wichita’s managing partner is Blake Shumaker, who also owns Service Body Shop chain and is a big soccer fan. “He’s the kind of owner you hope for,” Inlow said.

If the team plays with half the enthusiasm of its coach, FC Wichita should do all right.

 
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