CEDAR RAPIDS — After nearly a year, professional soccer is returning to Cedar Rapids.
An official announcement is expected this week from the ninth-year United Premier Soccer League that Cedar Rapids has been awarded one of its expansion franchises for the 2019 spring season.
“It is, by far, the fastest-growing soccer league in the United States,” club founder Kenan Malicevic said. “Currently they have over 300 teams across the nation. … The league is daily announcing new expansion teams. It’s growing very, very fast.”
Malicevic, 30, will also serve as president and head coach of the franchise, which will be known as the Cedar Rapids Inferno and will be in the Central Division of the Midwest Conference. Division mates will include teams from Illinois and Wisconsin, plus Union Dubuque F.C., which was founded by current Western Dubuque boys’ soccer coach Cliff Conrad and was a first-year UPSL participant last season.
“They were really on top of everything and helped me with all the paperwork,” Malicevic said. “They kind of were fresh in knowing what I needed to do to establish some of this.”
Malicevic has extensive local ties. With the help of current Cedar Rapids Xavier/Mount Mercy Coach Amir Hadzic, Malicevic emigrated from war-torn Bosnia after his freshman year of high school. He helped Cedar Rapids Washington reach the 2006 Class 2A state quarterfinals before ending up at Cedar Valley Christian. Malicevic played college soccer at Drake, then was a professional for three years in Poland before returning to Cedar Rapids and playing two seasons with the Cedar Rapids Rampage United outdoor team.
After three seasons of arena soccer and two outdoor, the Cedar Rapids Rampage/Rampage United franchise left town for Orlando, Fla., following the 2017-18 Major Arena Soccer League season.
“The previous idea was focused more on the money and outsourcing, bringing in players from out of state to make us look good,” Malicevic said. “This idea that I have will be for kids in the area. I want to create an opportunity for some of the local talent to get exposed and be seen on a bigger stage than they are usually typically used to.”
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Once the announcement is official, a website will be constructed and tryout dates will be announced. The club is expected to play its home games at Clark Field on the Coe College campus. Malicevic reports he has already received inquiries from 50-plus prospective players for one of the 30-35 roster spots.
“I’m looking to open the door to as many kids as possible,” Malicevic said. “I was never a fan of people telling somebody that they are too young to compete at a high level or too small or too skinny or anything like that. I am opening the door for everybody who is talented enough to compete.”
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