Three Wichita based soccer clubs join forces to benefit Wichita soccer growth
WICHITA, Ks - Wichita Azteca, Wichita United FC, and FC Wichita have formed a partnership underneath the umbrella of 501(c)3 Non-profit Together For Wichita Foundation ("TFW").
Under the new alliance the clubs will look to TFW to provide shared resources to all members. One of those benefits is the eventual hiring of full-time administrators to oversee areas such as team registrations, facility rentals, club communications, travel logistics, and team fundraisings. All parties feel that by alleviating the busy day-to-day office work, club directors and coaches will be able to spend more valuable time on the field with the players.
Another large resource is the player pathways offered by the Together for Wichita Foundation, which already manages FC Wichita's youth regional and national league memberships. FC Wichita holds memberships within the United Soccer League ("USL"), Elite Clubs National League ("ECNL") and Regional League ("ECRL"), Elite Academy ("EA"), and the USL Super Y Leagues, all together offering the potential for higher programming for over 500 local youth players.
Blake Shumaker, founder and current President of FC Wichita, says the club has been working for years to establish these type of opportunities to local players.
"We've been building many of these relationships for 14 years now", says Shumaker. "It's been great to see the league memberships come to fruition, but the best is yet to come. Having like-minded individuals working together for local players and families will prove to be the real reward."
There are many moving parts to the group’s plans but none more unique than the arrival of Wichita Azteca. Led by former YMCA Director Andrew Silva, Wichita Azteca has now become one with FC Wichita creating limitless opportunities for local Latino players, and they will be known as “FC Wichita Azteca.”
“This is an exciting time for our community,” says Silva. “FC Wichita has built major resources and we’ve taken notice. Over the last decade we’ve seen many Azteca players go from our teams at a young age to join FC Wichita and eventually showcase themselves on a national stage. Players such as Brian Aleman, Dominic Zuniga and Junior Quezada all have recently been promoted from the FC Wichita ECNL to the USL Academy team, while another former player Carlos Vidrio, is playing in the USL first team. We are proud of those guys and we certainly recognize this as the top pathway for local players. I'm personally looking forward to opening more of those doors for Azteca players in the near future.”
FC Wichita is the only full ECNL National League member in Wichita and operates both a boy's national and a girl's regional platform. In addition, they are also the only USL member club.
Blake Shumaker isn't surprised that Silva has much pride in the history of the Azteca soccer club. After all, Silva’s parents started the club and raised him there as a player; which is one reason why Azteca teams play with that same passion still today under his leadership.
“Andrew is a Wichita soccer lover through and through,” says Shumaker. “He’s got the ability to be a true liaison for improvement. Together we will unite and bring the top resources to local Latino players at both a young age and then again in the final stages as well. We want to thank organizations such as Empower Wichita for sharing in our mission and we're excited to make specific program announcements for them soon!”
Wichita United FC is overseen by director Jorge De La Torre, will continue operating an independent partnership between Wichita United FC and FC Wichita. De La Torre and Shumaker have worked diligently to make the alliance come to life over the last few years, implementing plans that would improve the environment for local players, coaches, and referees alike. The two firmly support the European model where families, players, and fans support their city and unite its resources to compete against outsiders. The pair share a common belief that Wichita doesn’t benefit from affiliating fulltime with out-of-town brands that require royalties or interests to be sent to other communities.
“We simply prefer that the money our families pay through fees and merchandising go directly to benefiting our local families and partners,” said De La Torre. “We will use those funds to put back into our club and improve the everyday training environment by staffing more qualified coaches and trainers, providing them with continued education, mentoring, and experience, and eventually distributing complimentary equipment.”
De La Torre says Wichita United FC has already sent numerous players into the FC Wichita ECNL programs and sees them thriving.
“Historically Wichita clubs send top players to Dallas, Kansas City, Tulsa, or Oklahoma City instead of bringing them together locally and playing against top competition from those same cities. Now we have that opportunity in our own backyard,” says De La Torre. It's not so much about a league, it's about about the resources and attention our club and teams can bring to the future of local, regional, and national-level soccer. All we need to do is focus on the end result, and work together locally towards a common vision and do what's right for the players and families."
Shumaker shares the same belief. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to see beyond competitive spirit in small markets,” said Shumaker. “Youth sports clubs have tendencies to fight over the local league game. You know, Wichita team A beats Wichita team B. Congratulations you're the best in Wichita. But what does that do for our soccer community? For years that mentality has diluted the opportunity to bring together elite players and like-minded soccer operators, preventing Wichita from reaching its full potential. Eventually this just forced those players to leave Wichita and spend more time in the car than on the field or in the classroom. They don't have to play in the local league necessarily, but why aren't we using all the top teams to attract tourism and make Wichita a major sports destination instead of spending our money traveling elsewhere? This option is presented now, and it can benefit all soccer clubs and their families.”
Shumaker’s statement is not a stretch of the imagination. In fact, he may have understated himself. FC Wichita has brought nearly 4,000 out-of-state players to compete at Stryker Soccer Complex in the last 16 months alone - an impressive number considering the return from COVID-19. In that time the club had not operated or partnered in one single tournament at Stryker Soccer Complex so one could only imagine that the sky is the limit.
“Together we have the ability to dream of the largest soccer tournaments Wichita could potentially host,” said Shumaker. “It’s certainly something we will be speaking to our Stryker administrators and the City of Wichita about immediately. At last count we have a few hundred traveling teams ready to commit to attending our new alliance events.”
In the meantime, Wichita United FC will see extended resources grow by acquiring the option to obtain the rights to FC Wichita’s USL Super Y League membership, and have the pathway to promote discovery players into ECNL and ECRL competitions for FC Wichita.
The USL Super Y League is both a Regional and National based program which operates underneath the USL Academy and historically plays its national final annually in December at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, an event that FC Wichita has attended successfully with numerous teams in the past. League play is optional team to team and is supplemental to the Wichita United FC current programming.
FC Wichita is overseen by Technical Director Bryan Perez, who enters his 4th year with the club this fall. Perez has an extensive background as a player and coach that includes accolades such as ending his college career as the schools all-time leading goal scorer at the University of Missouri Kansas City, to captaining the U.S. National Futsal World Cup team.
"These partnerships are exactly what Wichita needs," says Perez. "Everyone at FC Wichita is excited to begin working together to push Wichita soccer forward."