Development league soccer now on marquee at Rock Chalk Park

photo by: Saurabh Das/AP File Photo

In this Dec. 2, 2011, file photo, Maldives soccer coach Istvan Urbanyi of Hungary watches players warm up before a match against Nepal.

Istvan Urbanyi, technical director and head coach of the Kaw Valley FC Cranes, loves that Rock Chalk Park’s soccer field has natural grass. And part of him hates it.

“I still love smelling the grass, especially playing at 7:30,” Urbanyi said. “But that’s the hardest part for me, because if I smell the grass, that takes me back and I want to be out there.”

He looks as if he could still play, but his birth certificate, the one that reveals he turned 51 in April, tells him otherwise.

“I never had a plan of being a professional soccer player or a soccer coach,” said Urbanyi, a native of Hungary. “It just happened because I love the game.”

He also loves that players from all over the world who have attended soccer academies and aren’t quite developed enough to beat out veterans on a professional roster have somewhere to go to develop their games and set themselves up for life after soccer.

That place is college in the United States.

“Especially in Europe, that’s the biggest jump, from the youth level from the age of 18, 19 to the professional level,” Urbanyi said. “The very best ones, they can make it, but there aren’t too many very best ones. They have to be competitive against the real pros and it’s not easy. It’s not easy. Those guys are good and they want to keep their positions. You must be very good to enter into that spot. What makes this country special in terms of soccer programs is the college right now.”

Urbanyi said he did not receive his college degree until he turned 39.

“I quit school because I was playing professional soccer and I had no time to do both,” he said.

College players stock the roster of the Cranes, a new franchise in the Premier Development League’s Heartland Division.

The Cranes split their home matches between Lawrence and Topeka.

The Cranes, off to a 2-1-1 start, play their second Lawrence game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Rock Chalk Park, after drawing 750 spectators for their Lawrence debut May 25.

Kaw Valley FC is affiliated with Sporting KC, of Major League Soccer.

Adult single-game tickets sell for $9 in advance online and $10 at the gate. Youth (6-12) go for $5 at the gate and $4 in advance online. Senior tickets (65 and over) are $5 and fans 5 and under get in free.

The players aren’t paid, but it’s a way for them to stay sharp in the summer, and for the very best, it could lead to opportunities with Sporting KC.

In recent years, Urbanyi has worked as coach of the national team of Maldives, as a youth academy coach with Sporting KC and as an assistant coach in the UMKC men’s soccer program.

Urbanyi, the first Hungarian to sign with an MLS franchise (San Jose Clash in 1997), is a longtime friend of Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes.

Urbanyi has something in common with most who will be in attendance at Friday’s match against the perennial power Des Moines Menace (2-0-0): He loves the game of soccer.

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