Michael Gecan is a teacher. Ryan Salazar is a lawn care business owner. Ben Fowler is a banker. Brad Yarwood is an inventory analyst for a distribution company. Bryce Warner is a student teacher in Milwaukee. Tim Smith is a police officer.
But in their spare time, they are semi-professional soccer players for DeKalb County United.
DeKalb County United, shortened to DKCU to not be confused with Washington, D.C.’s D.C. United, is an adult semi-professional soccer club that will compete in the United Premier Soccer League. The league consists of more than 150 teams in 23 states. DKCU will compete in the Midwest Conference and will play against teams from Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska and Michigan.
On April 5, the team hosted a pre-season kick-off party at Fatty’s Pub & Grille, 1312 W. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb. At the party, there was a DeKalb Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting and the team revealed its kit, or uniform, to the public for the first time.
“Our goal is to unite the community through soccer,” team president John Hall said. “That’s actually our motto: ‘United through soccer.’ We’re known for barbed wire, sweet corn and Cindy Crawford. We want to add soccer to that list.”
The idea to start a local semi-professional soccer club began with a 10-minute conversation on Jan. 20, 2017. Hall and Colby Newquist, both of Sycamore, were talking about local soccer leagues and asked the question, “Why can’t we have one here?”
After submitting paperwork to the state in May 2017, the team was launched publicly in July 2017. The team’s head coach, Michael Gecan, was hired in December and two try-outs took place in January and February.
Out of the 130 men who tried out, only 42 players made the cut. DKCU’s first pre-season game will be at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at the DeKalb Park District’s Sports and Recreation Center, 1765 S. Fourth St. in DeKalb.
All other home games will be at Northern Illinois University’s Soccer and Track & Field Complex, which has a capacity of 1,800. The team’s first regular season game will be at 6 p.m. May 12. The season ends July 22.
The team has no owner and operates as a nonprofit organization. The players all are volunteers with only the coaching staff being paid.
Hall said that keeping soccer affordable and family friendly is important. Home game tickets cost only $5. Season tickets cost $50 and include a free scarf. Family season tickets cost $150 and include two adults and three children season ticket cards and two free scarves. More than 155 season tickets already have been sold.
“We really want to make this all about the community,” Hall said. “There will be free community booths for businesses at games where they can host kids’ activities, have giveaways and hand out information or coupons. At home games, to make things more fun, there will be theme nights, such as Armed Forces Night, Hero Night and Fan Appreciation Night. As a team, we will also host summer and youth soccer camps.”
DKCU midfielder Shane Toms remembers growing up playing soccer in Sycamore with his dad as his coach.
“Everyone else was playing football and baseball, soccer wasn’t as popular back then,” Toms said. “I really wish we had a team like this back then. It would have been great to have local players to look up to. Now, soccer is more and more popular, you can watch it on TV. People even come up to me and ask me about the team.”
Goalkeeper Tim Smith of Sycamore has been playing soccer for 26 years, ever since he started kicking a soccer ball around with his brothers. He played soccer in college and one year professionally in Iceland. After playing soccer around the world, he said he looks forward to playing back home in DeKalb County.
“Soccer is really popular in Europe and Central America, and we’re finally getting some of that momentum here in the states with teams like the Chicago Fire,” Smith said. “Soccer is unlike any other sport for crowd involvement. The crowd chants, holds banners. They really show their team spirit. There’s nothing like being in a stadium, feeling the connection the crowd has with the team on the field.”
Forward Colby Newquist of Sycamore, who also is the team’s vice president, has been playing soccer since he was young, for more than 20 years.
“You can’t beat the talent and passion we have for soccer here in DeKalb County,” Newquist said. “It’s a sport that people can play when they’re 4 or 64. It’s a sport that encompasses all ages. And we can’t wait to see everyone, all ages, at our games. … Having soccer here is so exciting. It’s a big deal. We can’t wait to get out on the field and represent DeKalb County.”
For more information about DeKalb County United or for tickets, visit www.dkcunited.com.