Back for its fourth summer, FC Wichita is looking to continue its push to become a professional soccer franchise with another strong season in the semi-professional National Premier Soccer League.
Coming off its second conference championship in three years and first win in the US Open Cup, FC Wichita will open its 2018 season against Ozark FC at Trinity Academy on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Single-game tickets are $10 or season tickets are $33.
"This year is a pivotal year for us," FC Wichita CEO and manager Blake Shumaker said. "We've proven three years in a row that we are a championship-caliber organization. As we continue to grow and we keep doing all of these firsts, we're going to be ready to take this club to the next level."
A major step in taking FC Wichita to the next level is the $22 million renovation of Stryker Soccer Complex, which will be ready by next season and give the club a 3,000-seat soccer-specific stadium.
Many in the organization view it as the final domino before FC Wichita joins a professional league.
"The professional level is becoming real," FC Wichita team captain Leo Sosa said. "It's not real yet, but it's obvious it's becoming real very soon. And I know (Shumaker) isn't going to take us to the professional level to just play. We're going to compete and win championships. That's what we need here in Wichita."
Another strong showing this season in the NPSL would only bolster FC Wichita's case.
That shouldn't be a problem with several top performers from last season returning, including Sosa, James Togbah (not until June), Andres Ochoa, Uzi Tayou, Luca Anelli, Chris Lemons, Steven Hamersky, and Mark Weir. Shumaker also brought in 19-year-old Benjamin Andoh, an upcoming prospect who has experience on the Scottish National Team.
FC Wichita will also feature local talent, as it signed former Newman player Taylor Henry, a South High graduate, and current Tulsa sophomore Thomas Wells, a Kapaun Mt. Carmel graduate.
But the top signing of the offseason was bringing in Franck Tayou, Uzi's brother. He is a 6-foot-2 center forward who is coming off scoring 71 goals in 22 matches in the Major Arena Soccer League this past season.
"Franck is going to give us a dimension we've never had and it's that big target forward," Shumaker said.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Franck is going to make a huge impact," Sosa added. "He's going to be able to be that shield for us up top and then he's going to put the ball in the back of the net very often. I can't wait to give him the ball and see what he's goin gto do with it."
Shumaker encourages fans to bring lawn chairs for stadium seating at Trinity or a blanket to sit on the hill on each end of the field.
FC Wichita will play its opening US Open Cup match next Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the Oklahoma City Energy U23.