CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa Raptors FC has a league.
The fledgling soccer club from Cedar Rapids announced Wednesday it will compete beginning the spring of 2021 in the United Soccer League’s League Two.
This is what is labeled as pre-professional soccer, an opportunity for younger players, particularly from Eastern Iowa, to show their wares, so to speak.
“This is a very special day for the entire Iowa Raptors organization,” said newly hired General Manager Chris Economides, who has experience owning and running other soccer clubs in the country. “It has been a work in progress for many, many months. But we’re very excited and pleased to announce that we will be joining the USL League Two. That is tremendous news for the fans of Cedar Rapids ... You will essentially be seeing all of the future stars who will be playing Major League Soccer here in Cedar Rapids first.”
Major League Soccer is the top men’s pro league in the United States, followed by the USL. The USL has three levels: Championship (35 teams), League One (12) and League Two (82), in that order.
Iowa Raptors FC is scheduled to play in the Heartland Division of USL League Two, formerly known as the Premier Development League. Other teams in that division are the Des Moines Menace, Chicago FC United, FC Manitoba, Green Bay Voyageurs, Kaw Valley FC in Kansas, Peoria City, St. Louis Lions and Thunder Bay Chill.
“Our goal is to bring the highest level of soccer into Cedar Rapids,” said Adrian Grodzki, part of the Chicago-based ownership group. “We understand there really isn’t anything like this in Iowa, other than Des Moines. So our goal is to give local players the opportunity to compete and grow their talent with some of the best players in the country. This will be an opportunity for them to showcase their talent at the highest level ... This will be their opportunity to get noticed and drafted by MLS. We look forward to making this a year-around endeavor with indoor (eventually).”
The Raptors are playing an exhibition season, of sorts, right now, hosting a tournment last week. It has hired Nate Grosse as its head coach.
The Omaha native has been Cornell College’s head coach the past six seasons.
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“In my opinion, this is a very exciting day for soccer in Eastern Iowa,” Grosse said. “Being a part of USL League Two just brings added credibility for who we are as a club. It will immediately give our players an opportunity to play at a higher level and potentially be seen by the next level and find their path way to professional soccer.”
There was no mention of a potential home field Wednesday at a press conference that included Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart. As Grodzki mentioned, the Raptors seek to also have an indoor team at some point.
The USL League Two season runs from late April to early August.
“Our philosophical approach as a club here are three C words: community, competitiveness and commitment,” Economides said. “We feel the Cedar Rapids market is a very fertile market, in terms of players with the capabilities of reaching the next level. We want our local youth here to aspire to some day play here for the Raptors, as they go on to do bigger and better things in their careers. We are really, really excited about the opportunities here.”
“Having worked with Chris closely in the past, we’re very excited to see what he and his leadership group will bring to Cedar Rapids,” said USL Vice President of League Two Joel Nash. “We can’t wait for the Raptors to take the field for the first time in League Two, and for the additional opportunities the club will provide young players in Iowa on their journeys to becoming professionals.”
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