FC Wichita looking for more ‘Stryker Magic’ in regional semis

FC Wichita quickly developed a loyal following, and the team’s success at Stryker Soccer Complex has been consistent.
FC Wichita quickly developed a loyal following, and the team’s success at Stryker Soccer Complex has been consistent. The Wichita Eagle

Among those who have been associated with FC Wichita for longer than a season, any mention of “Stryker Magic” will bring a smile to their face.

Over the last three seasons, FC Wichita has produced a handful of improbable goals — two goals in stoppage time to reverse a loss into a victory comes to mind — in the waning moments of games at its home at Stryker Soccer Complex.

After claiming the Heartland Conference championship last weekend, FC Wichita heads into Saturday’s match against Midland-Odessa FC in the National Premier Soccer League South Region semifinals as the winner of its last eight matches at Stryker. They’ll be looking for “Stryker Magic” one last time.

“There’s always a feeling that we’re in a game, even if we go down 1-0,” FC Wichita leading goal scorer Matt Clare said. “Because we know the other team is going to have to deal with the grass field and the humidity and the crowd later in the game. We’re used to those things and I think that’s why we’ve found a lot of success toward the end of games once the other team starts to die down. You begin to find those magic moments and believe.”

Team owner Blake Shumaker believes the late-game success has made the atmosphere at Stryker even more raucous since the home crowd has seen their team complete so many comebacks.

“We were just talking about ‘Stryker Magic’the other day and we didn’t realize how ridiculous we have been in late-game situations,” Shumaker said. “I think the one thing the fans know is that they can’t leave early because they know they’re always going to get their money’s worth.”

Larry Inlow, who was the team’s coach in its inaugural season and has since moved to a director of operations role, thinks the grass field at Stryker gives FC Wichita its biggest advantage.

“Not a lot of teams are used to playing on that kind of grass and it just changes the way they get tired and the way the ball is played,” Inlow said. “I really do believe it gives us an advantage, so hosting games gives us a huge advantage in the playoffs.”

If FC Wichita wins on Saturday, it has a chance to host the South Region finals depending on the outcome of the other semifinal between Nashville FC and Miami United FC. FC Wichita would host if Nashville FC knocks off the overall No. 1 seed in the National Premier Soccer League; if Miami United wins, it would play host to FC Wichita for the region championship.

Manager Steve Ralos isn’t looking that far ahead, but he is confident in FC Wichita’s chances this weekend.

“The boys just have a grit about them that they find this extra gear when they need to,” Ralos said. “We find that extra defensive effort or find that goal when we need to make it happen. I think we’re peaking at the right time and on a roll at home. We are confident we can beat anybody in the country here.”

Taylor Eldridge: 316-268-6270, @vkeldridge