FC Wichita Journal #1: How semi-pro soccer looks like in the U.S., from a first person perspective

My name is Fred Koepp and I currently play with FC Wichita, a National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) club located in Wichita, KS (USA). Over the next couple of months, I would like to provide you with an inside look at what “semi-professional” soccer looks like in the United States and how teams operate and manage to field quality teams without being allowed to pay players.

A little bit about me:

I have been playing soccer since I was three years old, and have committed myself to reaching the highest level that I can possibly reach in the sport. I played club soccer with Dallas Texans SC, a youth club that has produced players of the calibre of Alejandro Moreno and Clint Dempsey. I played with the West Texas Olympic Development Program which puts players from the same state up against other states and acts as a link to the regional team, which then acts as a link to the national team pool. I attended Odessa High School in Odessa, TX, and started on varsity all four years, captained the squad for two years, and received the MVP award my senior year. I was recruited by Friends University (NAIA) and played all four years of college soccer here in Wichita.

The summer before college and after my freshman year I played with the FC Dallas West Texas Super-20 (Super-20 is a college under-20 league) team. After my sophomore year I played in Houston, Texas with the Houston Dutch Lions Super-20 team but was able to work my way into their Premier Development League (PDL, another semi-professional league) squad before the season ended due to my performance with the younger team. Finally, between my junior and senior year I went through a rigorous tryout process and was selected to the inaugural FC Wichita team. Last year I unfortunately missed the summer because of an ankle injury, but I have fought back to return this summer to train with FC Wichita again.

My soccer career has been riddled with ankle injuries over the past year, and I am excited to reenter the game. With that said, I am not what one would call a “big signing” (yes, they have them at this level too, but we will revisit that at a later date) and could possibly be cut any day, although that is not in the plan and I am trying to ensure that doesn’t happen by giving everything I have in each training session. I love playing the beautiful game, and my intentions are to do what it takes to train and prepare myself for a chance at the next level.

My goal with this journal is to provide a unique perspective on a tier of soccer that does not receive much recognition from news websites because it is not professional.

A little bit about the NPSL and FC Wichita:

The NPSL is a national men’s league that is considered to be the fourth tier of the American soccer pyramid. The PDL and NPSL are both considered to be at the same level, and are the highest level an amateur player can play at before going pro. They have produced numerous pro players, and some professional teams place their upper level reserve players in one of the two leagues on teams that are directly linked to them. The NPSL is home to 96 teams that stretch across the entire country. Teams in these leagues are not allowed to pay players (hence the name “amateur”) but usually provide compensation in the form of free gear, food, housing, and other vouchers and sponsorships. Although they are considered amateur leagues, clubs are run to professional standards, and both leagues are designed to help provide the final step in developing players to perform at the next level.

FC Wichita is part of the NPSL’s Heartland Conference and is only in its third year of existence. In its first year, the club won their conference which gave them a berth in the 2016 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, a national tournament where pro-teams and amateur teams compete across the nation. Last year, FC Wichita lost in the first round of the Open Cup to the Des Moines Menace (PDL) and finished the league in third place with a 9-1-2 record. They then lost in the conference semi-finals to the Houston Dutch Lions (a team I played for back in 2014).

This year, after receiving an at-large bid into the Open Cup, they won their first round game against Azteca FC (Colorado Premier League) in a thrilling game that was postponed midway because of rain and was finished later that night with a 1-0 overtime win. In the second round, FC Wichita hosted USL-Pro squad St. Louis FC and lost 4-3 in overtime after leading for most of the game.

Currently, FC Wichita sits in third position in the Heartland Conference after playing only two league games so far. A 2-0 win over Dallas City FC over the weekend showed encouraging signs that Wichita could be on its way to another conference championship.

As long as I am still training with the team, I will be providing a first-hand account of what is going on around the club and what types of things happen at the NPSL level. This will be a fluid journal that is as close to being live as you can get without live-tweeting from practice. I look forward to sharing my experiences and viewpoints with you as FC Wichita chases after another championship.

For more information on the NPSL and the Heartland Conference, go to www.npsl.com.

For more information on FC Wichita, go to www.fcwichita.com.

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