2012-13 MISL Season Preview
Friday, October 26, 2012
As an expansion franchise, one of the keys for the Chicago Soul as they built a squad for their inaugural season was to find the kind of veteran leadership that would help the club as it entered its inaugural season.
In Matt Stewart, they found their man.
The MISL veteran, who spent the past two seasons with the Milwaukee Wave and has been the captain of the U.S. National Futsal Team for the past five years, was named the club’s first captain when he agreed to terms. With a 16-year career in the indoor game, the depth of knowledge he brings will be an invaluable resource to not only the club’s younger players, but also Coach Manny Rojas.
“He’s doing great,” Rojas said by phone recently. “The first thing he does is he’s very, very professional. He’s the guy who is working extra after everyone else, who is doing something more, and he looks good. With the ball, he can play, he’s a good skillful kid, and he’s experienced, he’s bringing a lot to the kids.”
While nervous as he moved toward his decision to sign with the Soul, Stewart has been pleased with what he’s seen from the new franchise so far. With the club one week away from its first game of the season, next Friday night against the Syracuse Silver Knights, the anticipation of the new season is building for the 36-year-old and his teammates.
“Opening night is going to be unbelievable,” Stewart said. “I’ll definitely be nervous, but I’m nervous for every game. I’m always nervous before every game, but I feel like that’s just me getting excited about the game. When I’m not nervous about a game, then I feel like there’s a problem.
“Every game has a different character to it, some games you’re going and your team’s just killing it, and other times you’re like, ‘what is going on’, but I know the whole team is excited about getting started.”
Stewart particularly so. After seeing his season cut short each of the past two winters, he is ready to get back into action. After appearing for the U.S. Futsal Team at CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying this summer, Stewart said he feels back to 100 percent, and ready to hit the ground running.
“I did a lot of rehab at the end of the season and all through the summer, just working on my fitness and stuff and making sure I’m healthy,” he said. “Unfortunately they were two injuries that came from a tackle in the middle of a game, but I’m healthy now, I felt good over the summer with the national team, and I’m definitely ready to get at it.”
If the Soul are to fare well in their opening season, a lot could be determined by how quickly they are able to put together a run of results. With their opening seven games coming on the road before the club’s home opener at the Sears Centre on December 7 against Rochester, Chicago will find out quickly what sort of team it has.
The biggest test of all is likely to come in the final game of the seven-game trip, with the Milwaukee Wave hosting the Soul on December 1. For Stewart, going back to face the Wave won’t be an unfamiliar experience; he previously played for Milwaukee almost a decade ago, returning to face his former side at U.S. Cellular Arena on a number of occasions. Even so, that contest – and the ones that follow – will mean a lot to Stewart.
“There’s something about playing against the Wave on another team, playing against Tozer,” he said. “You know every time you play that team, and Baltimore are the same, every time you play those teams you know it’s going to be a tough game, so you’re always prepared for those because you know they’re going to be tough.”
And while the Wave and Blast are the yardstick’s by which most clubs measure themselves, Stewart believes the Soul should have ambitions of their own in their inaugural season. With other veterans like Jeff Richey, Alex Megson, Tijani Ayegbusi and Will Kletzien alongside him, the Soul have set their target appropriately.
“I think there should always be goals and they should always be realistic,” Stewart said. “Now, do I think we’re going to go out and win the first 15 games? No, I don’t think we’re going to do that, but a realistic goal for me would be halfway through the season, be at .500. I think that’s a realistic goal.”
And if Stewart and the Soul hit their target, the excitement of bringing indoor soccer back to Chicago could be enough to propel them on a run at the playoffs.
“I think some of the young guys see the Sears Centre and see all the seats, and their eyes get big,” Stewart said. “You can tell they’re excited about playing at the Sears Center, I know I’m excited to be back at the Sears Centre, I actually played there with the Chicago Storm, and it’s a great venue, people love to come out and watch games there, and it’s definitely exciting to be back there.”