The Astonishingly Shiny Cup of All Cups: A Seriously Fun Celebration of Wisconsin Soccer
For many fans of lower division US Soccer, the announcement of the Astonishingly Shiny Cup of All Cups by the perpetually creative and “forward”-thinking Mingos of USL League 1’s Forward Madison and NPSL Members’ Cup participants Milwaukee Torrent hit the radar as a great way to promote an in-state friendly between two relative newcomers to the professional ranks. For fans of Humongous Entertainment’s “Backyard” Sports computer game series from the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, it may have sounded more familiar. “I thought it would be funny if we used the ultimate trophy from Backyard Soccer,” said Jason Klein, the digital content manager for Madison. “This is a response to the proliferation of, you might say, meaningless trophies in US Soccer so we wanted something that played on that idea.” Thus the ASCoAC was born. Behind the funny name and the brilliant graphic created by none other than @phat7deuce himself, Mike Pendleton, however, lies a matchup that underlines a return to the spotlight for a soccer community that has been around for over 100 years.
The first recorded soccer match in the United States took place in Waukesha, a suburb of Milwaukee between a local squad and the team from Carroll College in 1866. The Wisconsin State Football Association was founded in 1914. Milwaukee Bavarians,who faced Forward Madison in the First Round of this year’s edition of the US Open Cup, have been operating (and winning titles) since 1929. Despite all that, many in the United States would not look to Wisconsin as a hotbed for the sport. “Soccer in Wisconsin is criminally underrated,” adds Klein. Beyond the extremely long history of the sport in the state, the recent exploits of Wisconsin’s squads cannot be ignored either. Andreas Davi, owner of Milwaukee Torrent, echoed that sentiment, “People underestimate the state of Wisconsin in soccer.” For those outside of the midwest, Wisconsin may seem like an odd place for such soccer fervor but the culture has always been there. Davi continued, “We have Bavarians, eight-time National Champions at the amateur level, we have four Division I colleges that play a big role in soccer on the men’s and women’s side, and I think it’s time with the Torrent and with Forward Madison that people say, ‘Hey this is someone we should take seriously.’”
The matchup itself, while a fun event that will get fans out to Breese Stevens Field, bringing their own sunglasses to shield their eyes from the Astonishing Shininess, is ultimately a celebration of the sport in a state that is finally getting its first taste of professional soccer over 150 years since that day in Waukesha. “I grew up just outside of Madison and we always talked about having a pro team we could watch that was close to home,” said Kuba Krzyzostaniak , Forward Madison’s Director of Fan Engagement & Digital Media, “for kids growing up here now, they have all these teams that they can see themselves playing for as a professional...it’s pretty exciting.” Connection to the local community has been one of the main driving forces behind both of these clubs. The Flood and The Flock, Torrent and Forward’s supporters’ groups respectively have begun to build cultures in the stands on matchdays and have grown communities within the larger community of their cities. For Torrent, Andrea Davi explains that the sense of community is a part of the club’s day to day. “Our guys work daily in the community. We go to 1-3 schools per day on the South side of Milwaukee to teach soccer.” The commitment of clubs to supporting their community rather than preying on it for stadium dollars or revenue streams is what ultimately separates most sports franchises in America from the community clubs involved in this matchup. Forward’s Krzyzostaniak highlights that the community aspect is key to their matchday experience as well. “For me it’s always been that sense of community and inclusiveness. The entire spectrum of Madison is here in the stadium having a good time together.”
The contest on the field should be an entertaining one. Forward Madison currently sit 4th in USL League 1, which would be good enough to qualify for the playoffs if they can stay put. They also proved their mettle on the road in the US Open Cup, claiming a 3-0 victory over USL Championship side El Paso Locomotive, much to your humble author’s chagrin. Don Smart, Paulo Junior, and JC Banks are the dangermen for the Mingos and will look to spark Madison’s attack against the Torrent.
On the other side, the Torrent and Davi are looking to give Madison a contest. “Some might think that Madison will win by four or five but it will not be that easy. It is a good chance for us to represent the Torrent and the City of Milwaukee outside of the Members’ Cup.” The Members’ Cup has been a challenge for the Torrent but one they have risen to. Despite just one win against Napa Valley 1839 FC, they notched a draw against the vaunted New York Cosmos on the road with two very late goals. The dramatic equalizer came courtesy of Anthony Colaizzi. They also held Chattanooga FC in Milwaukee via a late goal by Gonnie Ben-Tal. The Torrent, with a “never say die” attitude, have been proving a tough team to beat and it’s likely Madison find this hard working group ready to play today.
The competitiveness of the fixture does not take away from the fact that ultimately, matches like this are about cooperation. Jason Klein made things simple, “Look, we’ve got to work together. For such a small community, American Soccer has a lot of infighting so hopefully we can provide a bit of an antidote to that.” Teams realizing that cooperation is much preferable to the alternative is starting to become more prevalent and it is becoming apparent that it’s beneficial. Kuba concluded, “We definitely see ourselves as partners with Bavarians, (Green Bay) Voyageurs, Torrent, Croatian Eagles, the Wave, all those teams. The growth of the sport in the state is going to benefit all of us in the long run.”
If you have not taken note of the growth of professional soccer in Wisconsin, maybe this trophy will be Astonishingly Shiny enough to get your attention.
- Phil Baki