When Larry Inlow and a group of community investors created FC Wichita in the summer of 2013, they did so with the goal of improving soccer in the city.
No one could have imagined the impact the club would have. Just two years in, FC Wichita will play host to a U.S. Open Cup first-round match when it plays the Des Moines Menace on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Stryker Soccer Complex.
The tournament, in its 103rd year of existence, is the highest level of soccer an amateur club like FC Wichita can aspire to play.
“There’s no question this is going to be a landmark event for Wichita,” said Larry Inlow, FC Wichita’s director of operations. “This is bigger than just FC Wichita and local soccer, it’s a big deal financially for the city of Wichita and there’s an economic impact. We want to do well for our city and draw more attention to Wichita and our soccer.”
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An opportunity to host a game in a prestigious tournament like this will does not happen every year. The organization realizes the platform it has on Wednesday: A big crowd could be on hand, the weather forecast is promising, and the stakes will be the highest they’ve ever been.
“This is our chance to put Wichita soccer on the map,” said Kevin Ten Eyck, a defender on the team and a Wichita native. “We get a huge crowd, put on a good show, win the game, then why would fans not want to come back and watch?”
The U.S. Open Cup includes the best teams from across the nation, amateur or professional. Amateur teams open the first round. Professional teams are mixed in in the coming rounds, with Major League Soccer teams joining the competition in the fourth round.
“Pretty much it’s two of the top amateur clubs in the country facing off to see who gets to go play the professional teams,” FC Wichita manager John Markey said of Wednesday’s game.
While FC Wichita is in the process of earning a reputation after winning the South Central championship in the National Premier Soccer League last season, Des Moines is an established figure. The Menace have made 11 appearances (seven in a row now) in the U.S. Open Cup and have won at least one game in the competition for four straight years. They compete in the Heartland Division of the Premier Development League.
Inlow said Des Moines is a well-run organization whose player pool primarily consists of the top college players in the Midwest region. It’s a program that is accustomed to winning.
“That kind of experience is valuable in tournaments like this, but I think there’s also something to be said for young, hungry talent with something to prove and nothing to lose,” Inlow said.
FC Wichita showed promise in its season-opening 2-0 victory over the Little Rock Rangers last Friday. Carlos Contreras and Jeffrey Kyei were dynamic in the midfield and Markey believes they will be crucial to the team’s success against the skill of Des Moines.
The winner of Wednesday’s game will play host to the Tulsa Roughnecks FC of the United Soccer League on May 18.
“I think the difference (Wednesday) will be who is going to score that first goal,” said Markey, who played for the University of Alabama Birmingham before coming to Wichita. “We are very dangerous and we’re going to get on top of you and pin you in. If we can stay organized defensively while we’re attacking, then I think we’re going to have a very good shot.”
DES MOINES AT FC WICHITA
- When: 7:05 p.m. Wednesday
- Where: Stryker Soccer Complex
- Records: Des Moines 0-0, FC Wichita 1-0