In the middle of downtown Muskegon, locals will point out the sculpture sat at the center titled “Muskegon, Together Rising.” This kind of ascendancy is exactly what Muskegon Risers owner Matt Schmitt designed his club around and something that he will be hoping for with the club’s recent move into the National Premier Soccer League. The club announced this past Wednesday that, for the 2020 season onward, they will be competing in the NPSL Great Lakes Conference.
“The overall professionalism of the league and the league administration was probably the biggest factor that attracted us,” Schmitt said about the draw factor of the league.
“When we talk about the NPSL, we see that as a higher platform for us to keep doing what we’re doing just now the brand is going to be exposed to more and more people.”
“The move was definitely made with a long-term commitment in mind. The other thing that attracted us to the NPSL was the proof that they’ve developed a truly professional competition with the founders cup.”
Schmitt adamantly spoke about his desire to continue providing for the Muskegon community while growing on the pitch and being able to compete at the highest level.
“That’s the ultimate goal for most clubs, to have a market and create a market for players to do this professionally, for coaches to do this professionally on a full-time basis. That’s the long-term vision and each and every year we’re looking to maximize performance on the field and off the field to create that culture for the club.”
Schmitt also spoke about what bringing a high level outdoor team would mean for their well-established indoor side, which saw a shift in coaching roles.
“It’s not fair to ask a coach to do both indoor and outdoor and expect them to compete and win national championship,” Schmitt stated.
“The first move that we made when we knew we were gonna go the NPSL route was to shake up our coaching staff and the amount of workload we were placing on our head coach. As we’ve grown, our head coach, Ben Ritsema, had been doing both arena and outdoor, but our goal is to win a national championship.”
“Our captain, Stu Collins, he’s actually transitioning to our outdoor Head coach role so there’s a continuity there. At the same time, Stu is an assistant coach at Davenport University. He really excels from a recruiting standpoint, from an understanding of the game, he’s probably one of the best in the area. We’ll build a roster around Stu’s vision, he’s won national championships at Davenport.”
The Risers will compete in exhibition matches throughout this summer at the Monsignor Kehren Stadium on the campus of Muskegon Catholic Central, where they have a contract through the end of the 2020 campaign. The club are taking the preparation seriously leading up to their debut season in the NPSL.
“From my experience as a player, you need a full offseason to prepare for the three month schedule that leads to a national championship,” Schmitt said.
Through all of the talk of success on the field or on the business side, Schmitt focused on a more philanthropic goal. The goal from the beginning, as stated on the Muskegon Risers club website, has been to support and create a positive social and economic impact in the Muskegon area.
“We host and volunteer at local camps engaging with youths, offering just a little bit of mentorship in that space from reading to good values, healthy lifestyles. From the social aspect it’s really a lot about youth engagement. From the economic standpoint, the investment that the city of Muskegon has made, and that we’ve helped them make, at the LC walker Arena. Being able to attract people downtown, that’s going to have a big impact on the businesses here, the breweries, the restaurants.”
The NPSL expansion comes as great news to Risers fans, who will also get a taste of women’s soccer this summer where, for the first time, the Muskegon Risers will be fielding a women’s side. The club plan on having a summer to test the waters before looking for a league for the summer of 2020.
“We’ll do a couple weeks of training followed by the inaugural women’s game and then take a step back and evaluate whether were in a position where we can pursue a league or set up women’s exhibition games until the time is right,” Schmitt said.
Despite the ambition, the club will want to know for certain that they are ready to make that jump to yet another competitive team.
“We expect to be a part of a league in 2020 on the women’s side, but when we do that, we’ll do it with full knowledge that it’ll be a competitive product on the field.”
Muskegon natives will be eagerly awaiting the 2020 season and will hope that life in the NPSL will prove to be a prosperous one for not only the club, but the city as a whole.