Teams from Bavarian SC and the Croatian Eagles have squared off for decades, from the Wisconsin Major leagues to state and regional cup competitions. Starting in 2016, the clubs will battle in another competition: the Great Lakes Premier League.
The Bavarians, based in Glendale, recently were announced as the first expansion team for the GLPL, which kicks off its inaugural season next Sunday. Franklin-based club Croatian Eagles is one of the league's five charter members.
"It should be good for both clubs – it will definitely help us push each other," said Patrick Hodgins, who coaches the Bavarians' team in the Wisconsin Soccer League Major Division and is expected to oversee the GLPL side along with Tom Zaiss.
"We're pretty excited. We're ready to go for next year."
Essentially, the GLPL team will replace the National Premier Soccer League side the Bavarians fielded from 2005 to '08 and 2010 to '13. The Bavarians were 48-28-6 in those eight seasons in the NPSL, winning the Midwest Region in 2011.
The Bavarians used their NPSL team as almost exclusively an Under-23 team, with active college players making up the roster, but Hodgins said the club's GLPL entry likely will include more of a mix of older players and college players.
"I think we're looking to get a pool of players together that can compete in the Great Lakes league, guys from around the area and from around the state who want to play at a higher level," Hodgins said.
"We'll offer our Majors guys an opportunity to play, but obviously, there will be an expectation of training and a commitment level that's different from our Majors team at the moment. The guys that are committed and wanting to do that, we'll have them play, and then bring in college guys to help us with our Great Lakes team and out Majors team as needed."
Hodgins said the Bavarians will continue to field teams in the WSL Major and First divisions and enter U.S Adult Soccer Association competitions. He pointed to the Croatian Eagles as a motivating factor behind the club's decision to join the GLPL.
"You see what's going on around you, you see what Croatians are doing and you want to feel like you're offering your players the same opportunties," said Hodgins, who previously coached the Croatians' Under-23 team. "You don't want to lose players to anybody else, and we felt like this was a good time to offer some things that just aren't in the Majors league."
The GLPL was started over the winter by the owners of Grand Rapids FC and AFC Ann Arbor after their applications to join the NPSL as expansion teams were declined. They added fellow Michigan team Oakland United, also in its first season, along with two clubs with vast histories: Chicago's RWB Adria and the Croatians.
The Bavarians bring more prestige to the new league: They have won two USASA Open Cup titles and four national amateur Cups, in addition to 16 state Major titles since 1973. Hodgins said the Bavarians were in discussions with the league to be one of the GLPL founding members.
"At the time, given the timeline we had to accept a spot, we weren't ready to make a commitment for 2015," Hodgins said, noting that the Bavarians felt they needed to do their due diligence before joining the new league.
Suffice to say, any questions have been answered.
"In discussuions with Croatians and Adria, you see the kind of quality the league is putting out with those teams, we felt like it would be a good fit for our program and a good replacement for the NPSL," said Hodgins, who added that he also spoke with the other clubs to confirm the league's commitment and competition level.
One big advantage of the GLPL over the NPSL is the cost: Hodgins said the Bavarians paid a $2,000 entry fee, while the NPSL's entry fee is $12,500. Both leagues also have yearly team dues.
"In the Great Lakes, $12,000 could be your whole operating budget," Hodgins said. "It's a significant reduction in costs. ... There are a lot of financial pieces with the Great Lakes that make it more advantageous. A lot of the (road) trips, you can make in one day, one overnight; there's a lot less travel."
And travel costs could be even less, depending on how many more expansion teams the GLPL adds for 2016 – the league's news release announcing the addition of the Bavarians noted that bids will be considered through October.
"I don't think they're finished, just adding one team," he said. "I think they would like to get to 10 to 12 teams and have an East and West (division). And that would be great, because it would really reduce the travel even more."
Multiple sources familiar with the GLPL indicated that Madison, Eau Claire and Green Bay have been mentioned as potential expansion locations, and the league also has had discussions with a group about a second team in the Chicago area.