After 11 seasons in the National Premier Soccer League, the Madison 56ers will be part of the Great Lakes Premier League in 2016.
The 56ers, who were a charter member of the NPSL, are the fourth expansion team announced by the GLPL for its second season, following Glendale's Bavarian SC, Ole SC from Grand Rapids, Mich., and Ohio's Toledo United.
"Madison has proven to be a wonderful soccer community, and we are happy to announce a new team in the area," GLPL commissioner Keith Karbo said in a news release last Friday announcing the move. "This is an important new market for the league."
The league currently stands at seven teams, with the new sides joining three charter members: Croatian Eagles from Franklin, Chicago's RWB Adria and Oakland United, which is based in Rochester, Mich. The league's two other founding teams, AFC Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids FC, left the GLPL after one season to join the NPSL.
"We are thrilled to be part of the Great Lakes Premier League," 56ers general manager Cristian Brei said in the news release. "The GLPL is a perfect mixture of brand new and old, established clubs. We are looking forward to renewing Wisconsin rivalries with the ... Croatians and Bavarians."
And while renewing those rivalries certainly are a part of the reason the 56ers made the move, the finances associated with them were a bigger factor.
The NPSL Midwest Region has trended eastward, with 12 of the 13 current members in Michigan (five), Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania (two each) and New York (one). In years past, the 56ers had teams in the Milwaukee area, Eau Claire or La Crosse, the Twin Cities or the Quad Cities to play against in the league, but that is no longer the case.
The Minnesota Twin Stars won't be playing in the NPSL in 2016, longtime club technical director and coach Youssef Darbaki confirmed in an email Thursday. And the Minnesota United Reserves' future in the league is "unclear," club spokesman Eric Durkee wrote in an email.
"The main thing is travel," Brei said in a follow-up interview. "The NPSL is very strong in Michigan. But as far as this area, it just doesn't make sense, for travel purposes. Going to one game, like Detroit, it costs more than what it used to cost to travel for the whole season."
Brei said the 56ers spent approximately $5,000 for their road game against Detroit City FC in June, when they rented a bus for the three-day trip.
"And in the NPSL next year we would have to take six of those trips, because there is nobody else nearby," he said. "So that's $30,000, or maybe $20,000 or $25,000 because you might play two games in a weekend. But still, it's a huge difference ... and something we can't justify."
Brei said he's projecting a vastly different travel budget for next year.
"In the Great Lakes, it will be only day trips, which will be amazing for us," he said. "We're figuring about $3,500 for the whole season. And it's OK to drive vans if you go to Milwaukee, you don't need to get a bus for that."
Additionally, the GLPL fees are considerably lower than those in the NPSL. Brei said the cost to join the league is $2,000 and the annual dues are $1,000, while the NPSL's annual dues are $5,000. The GLPL's annual general meeting is this weekend in Chicago, where additional expansion teams could be confirmed.
The 56ers re-launched their men's program after an eight-year hiatus in 2005 and were among six Midwest teams that joined up with five former members of the Men's Professional Soccer League and two California teams to start the NPSL.
Originally known as the Princeton-56ers due to a partnership with the Princeton Club health clubs, the 56ers won Midwest Region titles in 2006, '07, '10 and '12. They played host to the NPSL final in 2006, falling to the Sacramento Knights 2-0 at Breese Stevens Field, and won third-place games after losing in the national semifinals in 2007 and '12.
Last season, Madison finished atop the Midwest standings with a 9-2-1 record during the regular season, but lost to eventual regional champion Indiana Fire 1-0 in the playoff semifinals at Breese Stevens. The 56ers were 10-4-1 overall last summer and compiled a 100-49-24 record in all competitions over their 11 seasons as an NPSL program, including two appearances in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
With the departures of Madison and the Twin Stars, the lone remaining charter NPSL member is California's Sonoma County Sol.
The 56ers went 11-5-2 against the Milwaukee Bavarians NPSL team, which was primarily an Under-23 team during its existence (2005 to '08 and 2010 to '13). Madison has played the Croatian Eagles or the club's Under-23 team five of the past six years.