Wings expect to grow from first season back in MISLBy Jeffrey Lutz
The Wichita Eagle
If measured by wins and losses, the Wings’ first season in the MISL can’t be considered a success, since they had the second-worst record in the league at 8-16.
But the franchise proved effective in capturing Wichita’s devoted soccer fan base, drawing more than 3,800 per game to Hartman Arena and providing them with several exciting moments.
The Wings also made it through their inaugural season without any major logistical problems. The team’s decision makers are excited to have behind them the planning that goes into operating a first-year franchise and eager to begin work improving the team.
"It’s going to be night and day, I hope," general manager John Blazek said. "I hope my 19-hour days go back to 12. We have a fan base, we have a season-ticket base, we have a sponsorship base, we have public appearances."
As proven during the run of the previous Wings franchise, the soccer base in Wichita is loyal. Blazek became aware of that when the team drew more than 3,000 fans to a preseason scrimmage, and he was impressed when the Wings sold out their first and last home games and drew several other big crowds.
The Wings sent players and coaches on, according to Blazek, more than 70 public appearances during the season, which began in November and ended last Sunday. The events added to a fan base that proved during the first Wings’ tenure that professional soccer in Wichita would be supported.
"It didn’t surprise me," said coach LeBaron Hollimon, who played for the previous Wings franchise toward the end of its existence. "We were massively supported before the team folded, and I think being gone for 10 years really helped to bring that support back."
Such support may be sustainable for a season or two, but the Wings know that to keep fans’ interested they must win.
Even though this season didn’t produce results, building blocks were established and Wichita wasn’t that far from contending, losing 10 games by three points or fewer. The weakness became clear by the end of the season — Wichita has few proven scorers.
Jamar Beasley led Wichita with 59 points, which ranked ninth in the seven-team league. The only other Wichita player to finish in the top 20 was Bryan Perez. Division opponents Milwaukee and Missouri combined for eight top 20 scorers.
"It’s there for everyone to see, we’ve got to score goals," Hollimon said. "We’ve got to find someone that just has the knack and ability to score goals — it can’t just be one player, but maybe a couple players that can score goals. If you look at our end-of-the-season run, we were playing well enough defensively to win some of those games."
Blazek and Hollimon believe the league, which is in its third existence, will survive at least in the short term. Plans are being made to add teams, which will help balance the schedule and the divisions. Blazek said the MISL will add two games to each team’s schedule next year, going to a 26-game format.
The Wings, too, look like they’ll make it. With a dedicated fan base and a tireless staff, the focus can be on improving the team instead of working out behind-the-scenes kinks.
"It’s like any job — getting that first year under your belt is critical," Hollimon said. "That second year is easier. As far as what we have to do on the field, because we’re not an expansion team expectations are going to be a little bit higher. We’re not an unknown anymore."
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