Ozark FC grow­ing in in­au­gu­ral sea­son

■ Ozark FC has been play­ing its home games at John Brown Univer­sity.

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - SPORTS - By Scot­tie Borde­lon NWA Demo­crat-Gazette

CENTERTON — On April 30, Jose Lopez was scram­bling.

Cho­sen to head the Na­tional Pre­mier Soc­cer League’s new­est ex­pan­sion team in Arkansas, Ozark FC, he had just one week to build a ros­ter and field a team be­fore the team’s first scrim­mage. On May 1, try­outs be­gan.

Founded in Jan­uary and based in Spring­dale, Ozark FC be­came the sec­ond NPSL team in the state, join­ing the Lit­tle Rock Rangers, whose home matches are played in War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium. Lopez’s club be­gan be­hind the prover­bial eight-ball when fam­ily health is­sues arose for co-owner Will Broyles, pre­vi­ously the owner of the Shreve­port (La.) Rafters.

“It’s been pretty hec­tic,” Lopez said. “The first three weeks was pretty hec­tic as far as try­ing to get ev­ery­thing go­ing.”

But he did get things rolling. At the May 1 try­outs, more than 100 ath­letes showed up for the two-hour trial. Twenty-eight play­ers Lopez pinned were in­vited to the team’s first scrim­mage and, fol­low­ing the match, 18 were cho­sen to com­plete the ros­ter.

Be­cause of the late start, Lopez also had to hus­tle to find fa­cil­i­ties, and came away shocked at the will­ing­ness to help from other clubs in the re­gion. David Gough, di­rec­tor of coach­ing with Sport­ing Arkansas, pro­vided a prac­tice field in Centerton for Ozark FC’s use, and John Brown Univer­sity opened its soc­cer field for the club’s home games in its in­au­gu­ral sea­son.

“We didn’t have enough time to get ev­ery­thing sit­u­ated where we want it to be so we can run it like a reg­u­lar club does,” Lopez said. “But peo­ple are ex­cited to have a team in Spring­dale.”

Lopez said Broyles is plan­ning to build a sta­dium next sum­mer in Spring­dale, a soc­cer-rich

It’s our team now, and we’ve got to rep­re­sent the peo­ple who live here and love and the sport. We’ll do it for our­selves, we’ll do it for the com­mu­nity and for each other. Irvin Sosa Ozark FC team mem­ber

city he felt would be an ideal fit for a semi-pro club with po­ten­tial to grow. The next step is set­ting up housing for play­ers dur­ing the May-July sea­son, which, in turn, will ease the re­cruit­ing process for Lopez.

In his last stop at FC Wi­chita, Lopez re­cruited Di­vi­sion I ta­lent, NAIA Al­lAmer­i­cans and ju­nior col­lege trans­fers and found suc­cess. He’s hop­ing to do the same in North­west Arkansas and build from there.

Irvin Sosa, a Fayetteville grad and the club’s soonto-be 26-year-old team cap­tain, heard about try­outs through friends and de­cided to give the team a shot. With time, he be­lieves Ozark FC can be­come very suc­cess­ful.

“You can see th­ese guys here putting their hearts into it, and they want to see it grow,” said Sosa, who devotes time to the club af­ter his shifts at Wal-Mart. “It’s our team now, and we’ve got to rep­re­sent the peo­ple who live here and love the sport. We’ll do it for our­selves, we’ll do it for the com­mu­nity and for each other.”

Shamus Jaeger, a 35-year-old project man­ager born and raised in Spring­dale, sees all of North­west Arkansas em­brac­ing Ozark FC. The team also pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity for col­lege play­ers — Lopez’s tar­get au­di­ence — to re­turn home in the sum­mer and con­tinue play­ing at a high level, he said.

For now, as the team bat­tles through its first sea­son, its all about lay­ing a foun­da­tion for Lopez. The team is a step be­hind op­pos­ing clubs tal­en­t­wise, but he has al­ready gar­nered buy-in from his play­ers.

“Per­son­ally, I’m en­joy­ing it,” said Lopez, the old­est of six chil­dren grow­ing up. “I’ve al­ways kind of been in a leader role so I’ve al­ways had re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to deal with. Now, we just have to get the re­sults to go in our fa­vor. It’s go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

Ozark FC is sched­uled to host FC Wi­chita on Satur­day, June 10, at 7 p.m. at JBU. All home matches this sea­son are free to at­tend.

Pho­tos by Ben Goff/NWA Demo­crat-Gazette

Wes Ho­lifield (bot­tom) makes a save as Corey Fer­gu­son at­tempts to score Thurs­day dur­ing Ozark Fut­bol Club’s prac­tice at the Sport­ing Arkansas fields in Centerton. The ama­teur soc­cer team is en­ter­ing it’s first sea­son com­pet­ing in the Na­tional Pre­mier Soc­cer League.

Ozark Fut­bol Club play­ers warm up Thurs­day at prac­tice at the Sport­ing Arkansas fields in Centerton. The ama­teur soc­cer team is en­ter­ing it’s first sea­son com­pet­ing in the Na­tional Pre­mier Soc­cer League.

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