Opening kick: Indoor soccer franchise begins inaugural season in Syracuse

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on November 7, 2011 at 12:00 pm Contact Chris: [email protected] | @chris_iseman Commentscenter_img Standing in the trainer’s room of the War Memorial Arena, Ryan Hall sported the symbol of the intensity he’s going to be involved in for at least the next five months. His right eye was red and swollen shut, and with a duffle bag hanging over his left shoulder, Hall was headed to the Upstate Medical University Hospital emergency room. Hall is a member of the upstart Syracuse Silver Knights, a professional indoor soccer team that’s a part of the Major Indoor Soccer League. Just minutes earlier, the ball hit the former Syracuse soccer standout in the face off a kick from about five feet away. Hall spent a couple of minutes on the turf, but then got up and began jawing back and forth with an opponent. In indoor soccer, everything’s a bit more amped up. ‘I think the sport and the atmosphere speaks for itself,’ Hall said. ‘… It’s a hard sell to sell soccer, but once they get in the doors, it’ll be successful.’ The Silver Knights played their first-ever game Nov. 4 after they were officially unveiled July 14. The team is owned by a collection of local investors, including team president and head coach Tommy Tanner, who is a former professional indoor player and Syracuse native.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text Whether the Silver Knights can stay in business depends on how much interest can be drummed up within the Greater Syracuse area, but Tanner said he believes the area can provide a sustainable environment for his team to thrive. Tanner’s foray into indoor pro soccer has sparked skepticism, especially because the city already had a failed pro outdoor soccer franchise with the Syracuse Salty Dogs, which lasted from 2003 to 2004. But Tanner said the number of kids playing soccer in Central New York lends the evidence needed to show that an indoor soccer team can be successful regardless of any past failures. ‘I just thought with the Salty Dogs leaving, and the fan base we had from that, I thought it was a great opportunity,’ Tanner said. ‘This is a great arena. I watched some Crunch games in here and it’s fantastic. And I knew this atmosphere would be perfect for indoor soccer.’ Tanner couldn’t have asked for a better first game to help defend his case. Silver Knights defender Jeff Hughes scored with 39.6 seconds remaining in the franchise’s first game to give his team a 16-15 come-from-behind victory over the Rochester Lancers on Nov. 4 at the War Memorial. As soon as the ball entered the goal, the crowd erupted in cheers that lasted until the final seconds ticked off the clock. The fans were lively even before the game started, beginning with the Silver Knights’ dramatic entrance onto the turf. The lights in the arena darkened and a spotlight followed each player as he emerged from the tunnel and ran through two lines of about 40 youth soccer players welcoming them to the field. The team lined up at midfield in their black long-sleeve uniform tops, black shorts and Orange knee socks. Shortly after, a new style of soccer that’s still trying to find its niche took over the bright green turf. The fast-paced world of indoor soccer within the tight confines of the field is a far cry from the wide-open atmosphere of the outdoor game. At times, it can spark reminders of ice hockey or even basketball. Fans pound on the Plexiglass that surrounds the field for much of the game, and players are often shoved into the wall. Goals are worth two points, except those scored on shots taken from outside a 45-foot arc that extends out from the wall along the net, which are worth three. Throughout the game, the public address announcer provides a play-by-play and constantly implores the fans to cheer while repeatedly reminding them to pick up their Silver Knights merchandise at stands inside the arena’s concourses. For a team relying on fans’ support, every dollar raised helps. Tanner said he believes the support is there and will continue to increase as word of the team spreads. ‘My vision is soccer will do very, very well in this community,’ Tanner said. ‘The reason I brought it back was because I think there’s a huge soccer community in Syracuse. I’m just really excited.’ The team’s operating budget is $600,000 with a player payroll of $200,000, according to an Oct. 27 article in The Post-Standard. Tanner also has 15-20 major business partners, with more possible, according to the article. The Silver Knights are a collection of players from various backgrounds. Some have very little experience while others have played professionally. Diego Serna, who played Major League Soccer for the New England Revolution and Los Angeles Galaxy, is arguably the team’s most prominent player. He finished his time in the MLS with 57 goals in 124 games, placing him in the top 25 on the league’s all-time scorers’ list. The Silver Knights are providing Serna with a comeback of sorts. Sitting on the bench in the cramped locker room after the game, he was a long way from the MLS. But Serna said he has aspirations to return to the league to finish out his career as a player before becoming a coach. Serna said his agent is friends with some people connected to the Silver Knights, and he saw it as a good place to play during the winter to keep his skills sharp until the summer. His MLS experience provides the Silver Knights with a big-name player to attract die-hard soccer fans. ‘The organization and the players are making all the efforts to keep this team alive and to win,’ Serna said. ‘And to score a lot of goals to make people come and watch the games.’ Like Serna, Andriy Budnyy is also giving indoor soccer a try for the first time. The native of Ukraine has spent his career in the United Soccer League, most recently playing for the Wilmington Hammerheads. Budnyy scored the Silver Knights’ first goal 16 seconds into the game on Friday, then climbed halfway up the Plexiglass wall to rile up the fans. Budnyy said he’s still learning indoor soccer, having only been introduced to it about two weeks ago. ‘It’s something new to try. A new option,’ Budnyy said. ‘I discussed it with my friends who played indoor, and they said it would be a good fit for me. I decided to give it a try, so we’ll see how it turns out.’ That’s the big question. How will it turn out? Not just for Budnyy, but for the team as a whole. The Silver Knights could find a strong, supportive fan base in Syracuse, or they could meet the fate of their local pro soccer predecessors, the currently nonexistent Salty Dogs. Trying to find that support and financial stability will be what ultimately determines the Silver Knights’ future. For now, though, Hall said there’s no sense in considering any possible failures. Only time will tell whether the Silver Knights have a long-term place in Syracuse’s sports fabric. ‘We’re not thinking any negatives. We’re hoping to be a huge success,’ Hall said. ‘That’s why we came here. That’s why players flew in from all over the world. That’s what we’re going to go with.’ [email protected]last_img

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