By Jason Goorman

MUSKEGON – Soccer is a very international sport, and the inaugural roster of the Muskegon Risers is a clear illustration of that reality.

LSJ Logo incertThe Risers, a first-year professional minor league club, will play their first official game Saturday night against Detroit City FC at Detroit Cass Tech High School.risers logo

They will open their home schedule a week later, May 16, at their temporary home at Reeths-Puffer High School, against the Dayton Dutch Lions.

The Risers will play a 14-game schedule this year, with 10 games at home. All home games will be Saturdays at 6 p.m. They will play an independent schedule, with no league affiliation, this season.

But they will challenge many top pro minor league teams from around the Great Lakes region, with an eye on gaining respect and proving they belong.

“We wouldn’t schedule these games if we didn’t think we could compete with these teams,” said Risers Coach David Wood.

The Risers will open the season with 21 players on their roster – a collection of seasoned pros who have bounced around various pro leagues in various continents, along with a host of younger hopefuls, including one player from Muskegon and several others from throughout West Michigan.

Twelve hail from the U.S., six are from South Africa, and two come from England.

The team’s head coach – Wood – is also a British transplant who has settled in West Michigan and is also an assistant women’s soccer coach at Cornerstone University.

So how is the mix of players from different continents, with different levels of experience, going to come together quickly and form a competitive pro team?

Wood said the majority of players have been in town about a month, practicing one or two times a week. A few others have been trickling in after playing on winter professional teams in various leagues.

The team just started practicing together every day this week.

There’s no doubt it will take time for the Risers to build chemistry on and off the field, but Wood says most opponents are in the same situation.

“The toughest part of a team coming together in the last week is their chemistry in the offensive third,” Wood said. “That’s a big part of where teams struggle because they don’t know each other that well.

“In the offensive third you are usually only able to get one touch, rarely two, and you need to know where other guys are going. You can struggle with that when you don’t have chemistry.

“So we will have a need for more time to build chemistry, but Detroit City is just putting their team together, too, so their chemistry will be kind of rough, too.”

The Risers will lean heavily on a group of skilled veterans as they open their first campaign.

Their highest profile player is Jamar Beasley, 35, the first player ever drafted out of high school by a Major League Soccer club.

He has been bouncing around various leagues for a few years, but his skills apparently remain intact. As recently as 2013, one pro soccer website described Beasley as “incredibily quick, always dangerous in the attacking end.”

Other veterans who will be counted on early include goalkeeper Reece Richardson from England; midfielder Jai Mow of England, who will be the team captain; defender Jamie Walters from England; center-defender Alex Tozer of Milwaukee; and midfielder Alexi Munro of South Africa.

Local players on the roster include Jubenal Rodriguez, who played at Muskegon High School; Matt DeKryger from Fremont who played at Western Michigan Christian; Ben Honeycutt from Grandville; Job Potter from Sparta; Diego Bobadilla of Holland; and three players from Kentwood – Tarwo Konbloa, Ibrahim Konbloa and Titus Koso.

“This first week’s been great,” Wood said. “I think we can definitely do a lot of good things this year. The guys believe they are going to compete against Detroit City, it’s going to be good to see where we are. It’s going to be a bench mark for the rest of the season.

“It’s going to be a fast-paced attacking game. We play attacking soccer. We look to penetrate that back line, as well.”