It's been more than a decade since Wisconsin has had a professional outdoor soccer team. But that will change in 2016, with the creation of the Milwaukee Torrent.
The Torrent are owned by Andreas Davi through his German Fit, LLC, and will play their home matches at Uihlein Soccer Park's Time Warner Cable Stadium.
They'll be the first outdoor pro team in the state since Milwaukee Wave United played in the USL A-League in 2003 and '04; the outdoor offshoot of the Milwaukee Wave indoor franchise replaced the Milwaukee Rampage, who won two league titles during their run from 1993 to 2002.
"You have the Bucks for basketball, you have the Admirals for hockey, you have the Packers for football," Davi said. "But there's nothing for outdoor soccer, a professional organization for kids to say, 'One day, I want to play for this organization.' "
Davi said the Torrent nickname was selected as an homage to Milwaukee's many waterways – it's on the shores of Lake Michigan at the confluence of the Kinnickinnic, Menomonee and Milwaukee rivers. The team will be an independent entity, not connected to any other club, and will wear blue, silver and white uniforms.
It hasn't been determined yet in which league the Torrent will play. Davi has had discussions with the National Premier Soccer League, the USL Premier Development League and the new Great Lakes Premier League, which all are in the fourth tier of the U.S. soccer pyramid. He's hopeful that the team will have its league affiliation finalized by the end of March.
"You have to start somewhere," said Davi, a native of Germany who moved to Milwaukee in 2009. "I don't think people are that (worried about) if this is NPSL, PDL or (the second-division North American Soccer League). I think they're just happy that we will have professional soccer as an independent brand.
"To make this a successful operation, we want to start on a lower level ... where we don't have to worry about, 'Can we pay salaries? Can we pay this or that?' This is why we made the decision to start at a lower level, to show that we're doing this the right way – with patience.
"I am the most impatient person in the world, but with this, you have to be patient. We have time – this is the good thing, we have time to make this work. Look how far we are already."
While Davi said he's long had these plans in his head, the actual execution of putting the initial pieces in place only started in early January.
He formed three advisory boards – one for financing, another for marketing and the other for operations – in early February, with five to eight "soccer-crazy" people on each board. The group also secured three major sponsors and put a marketing plan into action, in addition to reaching the one-year deal to play at TWC Stadium and hold practices at Uihlein.
The Torrent hope to draw crowds of 1,000 to 1,500 per game in their first season, and while ticket prices haven't been set, Davi said he wants them to be very affordable. In addition to its league schedule, he anticipates the team will play two or three friendlies each season.
"Everyone is excited, everyone thinks this is something that will work," said Davi, who is the director of coaching at Shorewood club North Shore Arsenal in addition to operating German Fit training in Glendale.
Davi said the team's operating budget for the first season will be approximately $75,000. For comparison, Davi said that an amateur team in the NPSL needs between $25,000 and $30,000 per year – he ran and coached the Milwaukee Bavarians' team in the league from 2010 to '12.
The Torrent also will need to pay a league entry fee, which varies greatly by organization: The PDL costs $75,000 to join, the NPSL fee is $12,500 and the GLPL fee was $1,000 this year.
"What I'm pretty proud of is we're starting this organization without making any debts or any support from a bank," Davi said. "This is not normal in these days."
NCAA regulations allow college players with remaining eligibility to play in leagues against professional players, but they can't play on the same team with players who are paid. (Players in NAIA programs are allowed to play on teams alongside professionals).
The Wisconsin teams that have played in the NPSL, including the Bavarians, Madison 56ers and Eau Claire's Aris FC, have not paid players, choosing instead to be amateur sides and signing several active NCAA players to their rosters. The NPSL has salary caps of $1,500 per player per game and a total of $2,500 per player for a season.
PDL teams can choose an option called PDL-Pro, which allows them to pay players, though the vast majority of the league's 63 teams are amateur. The GLPL is in its first season and it's not known whether any of its five teams will pay players. It's also not clear if the PDL and GLPL have salary caps.
That means the Torrent's pool of potential players will be a combination of former NCAA players, especially those who recently completed their careers, and players who haven't played college soccer. PDL rules allow a maximum of 26 players, though no more than eight of them may be over the age of 23. The only state team to play in the PDL was the Wisconsin Rebels, an amateur side that was based in Menasha from 1998 to 2004.
Davi said the Torrent's first tryouts likely will be in October or November.
"Obviously, I already have a lot of players in my mind," said Davi, who also will coach the team and anticipates holding four to six training sessions per week. "I would like to do this as a homegrown program, with only players from Wisconsin. I want players from the Milwaukee area; this is not going to be a selection of players from all over the country."
While Davi certainly is optimistic about the Torrent, he's also realistic.
"Every organization is going to make mistakes," he said. "In a lower league, it is easier to fix those mistakes and to learn from it. In the NASL, you make a mistake – we're not talking about a mistake that costs a few hundred dollars, you're talking about one that costs $10,000, $20,000, $30,000.
"There is much work still to do, but we have made already so much progress. I am so excited about it, and I am so happy I am able to do this in Milwaukee."
And, he's thrilled to be the owner of a professional soccer team. He relayed a story about an email he recently received from one of the Torrent's advisory board members.
"They said, 'Andy, read this now,' and they wrote in big letters: 'YOU OWN A SOCCER TEAM,' " Davi said. "This is like a dream come true."