Semiprofessional soccer team coming to Lawrence and Topeka

The soccer stadium at Rock Chalk Park is pictured in this file photo from Aug. 22, 2014.

Lawrence is set to become another destination in the region’s growing soccer hub.

A new semiprofessional team, Kaw Valley FC, will be lacing up for its first season this summer. The team will be owned and operated by Lawrence-based Sporting Kaw Valley Soccer Association, an affiliate of professional soccer club Sporting Kansas City.

Sporting Kaw Valley Executive Director Marcus Dudley said the area is an ideal location for a semipro soccer team because of its proximity to Sporting KC and the soon-to-open U.S. Soccer training center. Also key is the growing popularity of the game.

“It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the country,” Dudley said. “If you look at the last five or six years, from a youth perspective, every season we are breaking participation records.”

The semipro season will run from mid-May through July, with Kaw Valley FC playing its home games in both Lawrence and Topeka, Dudley said. The team will play in the Heartland Division of the Premiere Development League, which includes teams such as the Des Moines Menace, Saint Louis Lions and the Thunder Bay Chill.

Kaw Valley FC will play its Lawrence games at the soccer stadium at Rock Chalk Park, which Dudley said provides a fantastic venue. The team will be open to men under 23, and Dudley said many will likely be former Sporting KC academy players and other standout players from the region.

“It’s part of the pathway to pro approach,” Dudley said. “These are guys that are trying to play at the next level, so the quality of the soccer is going to be extremely good.”

Sporting Kaw Valley Soccer Association is a nonprofit soccer league that began in Lawrence in 1982 and has expanded to Topeka, Manhattan and Salina. Sporting Kaw Valley became an official academy affiliate of Sporting KC in 2011.

Dudley said that Sporting Kaw Valley has more than 2,500 players ages 3 to 19, and that having the semipro team will fill what has been a missing piece. He also emphasized that part of Sporting Kaw Valley’s mission is connecting communities to the sport of soccer, and having a semipro team is a way to do that for both Lawrence and Topeka.

Local university students will also have a hand in the team’s operations. Sporting Kaw Valley is collaborating with the University of Kansas Sports Management program for its operations. Students will be involved with game days, ticket sales, marketing and other projects, according to Jordan Bass, associate chair of the Department of Health, Sport and Exercise Sciences.

Dudley said tickets to Kaw Valley FC games will be under $10, and that this season the team will play eight home games, split between Lawrence and Topeka. He said a website for the team with a full schedule and other information will be launching soon.

The first Lawrence home game will be at 7:30 p.m. May 25 at Rock Chalk Park against WSA Winnipeg, of Canada.