Exploring the WPASL and the Expansion of the Amateur Game in Wisconsin

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In a time when USL-associated clubs like Forward Madison and a soon-to-be named Green Bay USL League Two club are grabbing the headlines, the purely amateur base of Wisconsin soccer- one cemented by giants like Milwaukee Bavarians and the Croatian Eagles -has received yet another boost with the announcement of the Wisconsin Primary Amateur Soccer League (WPASL). Protagonist contacted the WPASL to discuss the league’s goals in both the near future and long term.

The WPASL, which was founded by a series of amateur clubs in northwest Wisconsin, has a clear-cut mission: “The purpose of the WPASL is to give northwest Wisconsin a legitimate, sustainable amateur league for the top players in the area to compete in. In the short term, we hope for our league to give the top amateur and college players in the area a place to play for the late spring and summer… our hopes are to have a team in each soccer-sustaining area and we also hope to have each amateur team have youth systems under them, giving the youth players in our area a team to look up to and aspire to play with.” The league will call northwest Wisconsin home, a region largely void of the beautiful game outside of the youth and recreational levels, and seems determined to take the first steps in changing that trend. “There is also no NPSL or UPSL teams in northwest Wisconsin currently, but I would keep an eye out in the future for developments in those leagues.”

The WPASL is not shying away from the fact that soccer in its home has often been, and may continue to be, attached to the scene in Minnesota. “The WPASL does feel proud to provide northwest Wisconsin with a higher level league for its soccer players, but we would say that we are more keen to compete against and with Minnesota clubs and leagues, due to the fact that most of our cities are closer to Minnesota cities (Duluth, St. Cloud, Twin Cities) compared to Wisconsin cities (Green Bay, Milwaukee, Madison).” The WPASL, despite aiming to maintain a relationship with its neighbors, does feel that it can change the narrative of northwest Wisconsin soccer, a narrative largely built around silence. “We do hope that our league can help to gain respect for soccer in northwest Wisconsin. Soccer up here is not very well respected, especially by those south of Eau Claire, and this is frustrating because there is talent up here, even if thin. This league will give our players a chance to showcase their skills.”

With its first year of existence approaching soon, the league has a clear direction for how large it hopes to be in the near future as it grows in the midst of an ever changing soccer environment. “We will have six teams in our league for 2019. We had interest from fifteen different cities, but there were only eight ready for play this summer, and we decided to begin with six for the first season to make sure we can keep costs low and to make sure our league will run smoothly. We hope to expand to eight to ten teams in 2020, and then we will see how many cities are ready to play after that. We will continue to announce our founding members on every Friday. It's a very exciting time for our league and for soccer in northwest Wisconsin.” The league has announced three of those clubs, including Hayward United, Rice Lake City, and the Eau Claire Heat.

The league’s first announced member was Hayward United, which finished its first and only Duluth Amateur Soccer League (DASL) season in seventh place with a 2-2-4 record. The club grew quickly during its time in a league that, despite its lack of flash, gave birth to Duluth FC of the NPSL. “We [Hayward] joined the DASL in 2018. We were looking for somewhere to play regionally, and they were the closest league. We learned a lot from playing in the DASL. It was a great experience for our team and we met and played against some really great people. The Duluth teams we played against were very even all around, with most of the games being decided by less than two goals. The competition was great for us, but it was also difficult because we had to travel an hour and a half for each game and the league was quite expensive for only getting eight games.” Hayward does hope to maintain a connection to the soccer scene in Duluth, “We hope to continue to play against the teams we played against in the DASL, as they were very even games and we have formed great relationships with the people up there, but it will likely be non-league games.”

Hayward sees its new start and new league as a great way to launch the club into a new era, one where it can build on the beautiful game’s legacy and the way it exists- and maybe eventually prospers -in the northwest of Wisconsin. “We are hoping that the new league will boost our club's support by having more games in Hayward… When I was growing up, there was an adult team here called the Hayward Scorpions who played 2-3 games a year against Rice Lake and Washburn, and I had always hoped to create something more professional, a team for our youth to look up to and aspire to play on. That is the goal we are trying to create here, a system where soccer doesn't have to end after high school/college. We think that this model will help boost soccer all over northwest Wisconsin, and I think that most of the other teams in the league have the same vision.”

The league’s second announced member, Rice Lake City, does not have prior experience in one of the region’s more well-known leagues, but has played previously to joining the WPASL, “We participated in the Rice Lake Amateur Soccer League (RLASL), a 7v7 adult soccer league… After a successful adult summer season in the year of 2017, the Rice Lake Adult Soccer League had become a growing group of soccer enthusiasts with the goal of providing soccer to adults within the Barron County area.”

Rice Lake City, who had played against Hayward United in friendlies and paired with the club as key voices in the forming of the new league, sees the league as a chance to develop the way people view the adult sport in Wisconsin. “The WPASL was simply the next step as we had so many teams playing in the RLASL… and so much more interest available… we came up with this extension of what the RLASL was already doing and started with a small piece of what will be a much larger puzzle, which will be eight teams in a league eventually. We have a long way to go but the future looks great for northern Wisconsin soccer! Investing in this now can only promote larger soccer in northern Wisconsin.”

The WPASL will play its first season in 2019 with six founding members, though more are expected for later seasons. The league will be the first of its kind through its efforts to unite a largely forgotten chunk of Wisconsin under the banner of soccer. Its current operation, like most of the leagues at its level, is humble at the moment, but lower league soccer in the upper Midwest all too often has shown us that such simple beginnings can easily birth clubs that compete at the top levels. Will WPASL follow the likes of DASL and MASL and provide the beginnings for the next big club? Only time will tell. Until then, the WPASL will make sure that northwest Wisconsin is on the map of the world’s game.

- Dominic Bisogno