LANSING - Cooley Law School Stadium is going to be busier this year and it’s not because of the Lansing Lugnuts.
“Lansing Ignite is a new professional soccer team here in Lansing,” said Vice President and General Manager Jeremy Sampson. “This is the first time in about 50 years that an outdoor professional men's soccer team will be playing in the state of Michigan.”
The new soccer team comes after the semi-professional soccer team Lansing United played its last season this past summer. Sampson, who was the owner of Lansing United, said Lansing Ignite will elevate what Lansing United did for Lansing the last five years.
"I hate the word ‘folded,'" Sampson said. "We’re very proud of what we built with Lansing United. We’re excited to elevate soccer here in mid-Michigan from a three-month amateur schedule to an eight-month professional schedule.”
Lansing Ignite will bring a higher level of soccer to Lansing. The team will compete in the USL League One which ranks above the Premier Development League and the National Premier Soccer League which Lansing United formerly competed in. Competing in a higher league means a longer season with more games, more pressure and different players. However, the team will have a few familiar faces, including three former Lansing United players and head coach Nate Miller.
"I was the head coach at Lansing United for the past three years," said Head Coach Nate Miller. "I'm excited to be the inaugural head coach for the club. There's so much work to do right now and we're just working hard to make sure opening day we have the best possible team ready to play."
Lansing Ignite has already signed nine players and Miller hopes to fill more positions with people from open tryouts.
“There's about two positions that I would really like depth in the roster that we still need to fill, so if we're fortunate enough for someone of that quality to be at the tryout, then we'll definitely engage in a conversation and see where it goes," Miller said.
One of the team’s most anticipated players is defender Kevin Coiffic. Coiffic is coming off a stellar season with Young Harris College, where he helped lead the team to a near perfect record of 17-1-1. In previous years, he played in USL League Two with FC Miami City.
“It’s an honor to begin my professional career in Lansing, and I look forward to working with Coach Miller as I continue my development,” Coiffic said in a press release.
The USL League One is a brand-new league comprised of 10 teams. While each team is competing against one another to make it to the postseason and be the best team in the league, they’re also working together.
"This league has something special, where all 10 members of the league have been very cooperative with one another,” Sampson said. “We're always sharing ideas, best practices, those kinds of things, so it's not like you're out on an island – you do have nine other teammates. We know from an individual franchise standpoint, that if we're successful, the league ultimately will be successful, and we want the league to grow well past 10 teams.”
An anticipated match-up will take place on April 16 between Lansing Ignite and the Spartans of Michigan State University; the two teams will compete for the Capital Cup in an annual cross-town competition that will unite soccer fans.
“MSU soccer is really excited to start a great relationship with Lansing Ignite, and I can’t think of a better way than the Capital Cup at Cooley Law School Stadium," Spartans’ Head Coach Damon Rensing said in a press release. “The greater Lansing area has a very strong soccer community and the combination of MSU soccer and the Ignite will serve that community almost year-round.”
There’s a sense of pride in basing the professional soccer team in Lansing.
"We're super excited that it's here in Lansing,” Sampson said. “For the fans, this is something special for them. I really hope it’s something special for them, to know that they have professional soccer right here in their backyard, and that there are few communities around the country that have something like that.”
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