Lansing United is officially a reality.
The City of Lansing now has its first amateur soccer team in city history. Former local WILX sports anchor and first-time owner, Jeremy Sampson, envisioned the idea of a local amateur soccer team three years ago, and has been building upon his vision ever since.
“It’s something we’ve been kicking around for about three years,” Sampson said. “We looked at doing it last year.”
Sampson, a 1995 graduate of Michigan State University, has lived and worked within the local Lansing community for over the past twenty years.
“I’ve lived in the mid-Michigan area almost my entire life and I know that there are a lot of soccer fans here,” Sampson said. “There are a lot of soccer players here and just looking at things, I really think it will work here.”
In early November, the new franchise held a public unveil for all prospective fans to reveal the team’s name, crest, colors, head coach, first player signing, home stadium and other alluring and unknown details surrounding Lansing’s newest soccer team.
Impact Sports was at the unveil in order to bring you all those details about Lansing’s newest soccer club.
The Name, Crest and Colors
It’s not just a name, it’s a philosophy.
That is the feeling owner Jeremy Sampson described as he spoke about Lansing United’s freshly unveiled crest.
“The look is not only classy, it speaks to the values we want this team to follow – pride, passion, and unity.”
“You all know as soccer fans that those are things that you have when you’re talking about your team,” Sampson said. “It’s kind of all summed up in our Latin phrase down at the bottom, Coniunctis Viribus. Really what that means is connected strength and that’s what this team is going to be about. Lansing United is going to be about connected strength.”
Back in September, Lansing United opened the crest design and team naming process to the public. Over five hundred color schemes and team names came rolling in throughout the submission period. Management promised to adopt their favorite concept and award the winner season tickets, a team-signed ball and an autographed jersey.
In November, eight submissions were used to create the final product that is Lansing United and the franchise awarded all the winners the three promises that they had made. Those eight winners will be presented their awards for being a vital part in the conceptualization of the franchise at the team’s home opener in the summer.
The franchise’s crest was designed by Lansing’s creative studio, Traction, and features elements key to the philosophy Sampson wanted to deliver. After the name Lansing United was suggested multiple times in the online contest, Sampson knew that was exactly the message he wanted to depict.
The crest’s Latin phrase embodies everything the team and Sampson hoped to represent. “Coniunctis Viribus” hangs below the newly designed crest and translates to roughly mean “connected strength” or “with united powers.”
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Lansing United will play as a part of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) starting in May 2014.
The NPSL is the highest level of amateur soccer within the United States. The teams are composed of players who hold amateur status which include high school, collegiate and former professional athletes. The league allows players to maintain their college and high school eligibility while also being able to play with accomplished professional veterans.
The NPSL is a national soccer league that operates under the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) and is in the fourth Division of the U.S. Soccer pyramid. The NPSL is roughly equal with the USL Premier Development League (PDL) in which the local Michigan Bucks compete.
The league is considered to be the fastest-growing national soccer league in the country. With over 60 teams in 2013 and the league’s 2014 expansion list adding teams, the NPSL will include over 80 teams this coming summer.
The National Premier Soccer League is the successor of the Men’s Professional Soccer League (MPSL), which was a western United States league formed in 2002. In 2005, it became essential for the league to develop a national format in order to accommodate teams from a newly formed Midwest region. In 2007, the NPSL added a Northeastern region and in 2011 the addition of a South region truly made the NPSL a nationwide league.
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Lansing United’s location automatically placed them in the Midwest Region as well as the Great Lakes Conference.
Last year’s Great Lakes Conference included teams from Cleveland, OH (AFC Cleveland), Detroit, MI (Detroit City FC), Erie, PA (Erie Admirals), Buffalo, NY (FC Buffalo), Berkley, MI (FC Sparta) and Zanesville, OH (Zanesville Athletic).
With many expansion teams entering the league this summer, owners had to vote at their annual meetings in Atlanta, Ga. this November to settle new division alignments and the 2014 schedule.
After the conclusion of the NPSL league meeting, Lansing United was officially assigned to the Great Lakes Conference along with seven other clubs, one in which was also an expansion club.
“As the sport of soccer continues to grow in the Midwest; the Great Lakes Conference in our Midwest Region continues to expand with the addition of Lansing,” NPSL Commissioner Michael Hitchcock stated on the league website. “The NPSL is proud to welcome a quality ownership group who will successfully engage the local community as they launch the club for the 2014 NPSL season. Lansing will be a great addition to an impressive conference.”
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A Conceivable Rival
To most, the most familiar opponent of Lansing United this upcoming season will be Detroit City FC.
In the past two years, DCFC has built a beloved NPSL powerhouse. Le Rouge (The Red), as they like to be called, finished 12-1-1 in all NPSL competitions last season under newly appointed head coach and Michigan State men’s soccer assistant coach, Ben Pirmann.
“I know Jeremy (Sampson) a little bit and he’s obviously a go-getter and I think he’s going to do a great job running (Lansing United) and I know Eric Rudland pretty well and he’s obviously a phenomenal coach,” Pirmann said. “The crest, the colors, the name, all the bells and whistles, they’re doing the right way.”
Due to NCAA rules, college players can not play for an off season team coached by a member of their current school’s program. The rule prohibited any current Michigan State player from ever playing at Detroit City as current Michigan State men’s soccer assistant coach, Kylie Stannard, coached Le Rogue before Pirmann took the reins this past season.
“I obviously look through two lenses with Michigan State and DCFC,” Pirmann said. “DCFC kind of takes five slots away from our guys over the summer so Lansing (United) brings it in. I know with Eric, they’re going to get good coaching and good training. I think with anybody who does it the right way, there are a lot of really good players in this area so I think they’re going to get good players and have a good team. You don’t just want to go around and beat everybody. You want to play the best teams and I think they’re going to put a good team together. Competition really brings out the best in everybody, so I think that’s going to be the biggest aspect of it.”
Lansing United will be coached by Eric Rudland who is not on the MSU men’s soccer coaching staff, allowing up to five current Michigan State men’s soccer players to play for nearby Lansing United.
“Well what we usually do is at the end of the year we’ll sit down and meet with our players about what they’re doing this summer, where they’re living next year, all those kinds of things,” MSU head coach Damon Rensing said. “I think obviously, a lot of our older guys usually tend to stay up here in the summers. If Eric Rudland does a very good job, I think it’s a great fix for us to try to find our best four to five guys that we got, that are in town, that match what they need and hopefully we can add some talent and depth to their team.”
With the probability that five Spartans will be playing for Lansing United this summer, Pirmann will be faced with an uncomfortable game when the two franchises meet.
“We did it last year with Brent (McIntosh), (Ryan) Thelen and Ben Myers playing for (FC) Sparta,” Pirmann said. “It’s tough because I want to see them succeed and I want to see them do really well, but I also am competitive so I want to see the team I’m coaching win games. The good thing is I see them every day so hopefully we can have good scouting reports.”
Detroit City is one of the most supported and beloved franchises in the NPSL. Lansing United enters the Great Lakes Conference and creates recruiting competition as well as coaching conflicts between the two organizations.
“I think anytime you have a local rivalry, an hour and a half apart, it’s going to be tremendous with the support of both clubs, especially Detroit City with the fans that they’re going to be getting and the fans that we’ve had, it’s just tremendous,” Pirmann said. “The rivalry is already kind of started.”
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The Home Stadium
It took Lansing United nearly a month after their unveiling to officially announce their home stadium where the team will play seven league games and one friendly between May and July this coming summer.
After rumors that Lansing United could possibly play at Michigan State’s DeMartin Stadium (where reportedly, a Detroit City vs. Lansing United game could still be held), Lansing United struck a deal to play only three miles from Michigan State’s campus at the 700-seat East Lansing Soccer Complex.
The Complex includes four full-size fields, including one field with lights. Lansing United’s new complex also contains five additional fields, two mid-size fields and three small-sided fields. As well as a concessions pavilion with restrooms, a 350-car paved parking lot and a ticket booth.
“Having a home complex with two fields gives us flexibility to play our games both at night and during the day,” said Sampson. “This is a fantastic facility that our fans will love and I envision us having a true home field advantage every time we take the pitch.”
East Lansing Soccer Complex also includes covered benches, locker rooms, score boards and an audio system, giving the players and coaches a feel for the professional atmosphere that many in the amateur league are striving for.
Jonathan Yales is the host of Corner Kick for Impact Sports
Video: Jonathan Yales