By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Risers have spent their first two seasons as an outdoor summer soccer team.LSJ Logo incert

Now they’re going to be an indoor winter team, as well.

The Risers have joined the Premier Arena Soccer League and will play risers logoa 10-game regular season schedule between December 2016 and March 2017. The team’s first home game will be in January.

The Risers will play five home games at L.C. Walker Arena and five on the road. The league will release a regular season schedule in the fall, according to Matt Schmitt, the Risers’ president of operations.

The Risers experimented with indoor soccer last winter, hosting two exhibition games at the arena, and were pleased with the results. At least 1,000 fans attended each game and everyone seemed to enjoy the experience, Schmitt said.

That led to the decision to take the plunge and become a two-season soccer club.

“This has been about a year in the making,” said Schmitt, who stressed that the Risers will continue to play in the summer, as well. “Last winter we tested the idea out to see if there was a market for it, and if the players and fans enjoyed it, and it was an overwhelming success.

“Between the second winter game we played and this outdoor season, we have been weighing our options and working behind the scenes to see what league made sense for us.

“The city really likes the idea, and the people at the arena really like it. It will be very positive for the downtown area.”

Competing in a league will be a new experience for the Risers, who have spent the last two outdoor seasons playing an independent schedule.

The Risers, a semipro club, may also join a league in the 2017 summer season, Schmitt said.

“It’s really exciting,” said Schmitt about joining a league and playing for a championship. “Obviously there were huge advantages to being independent the first few years. We got the chance to play around with the arena concept. Now the players are excited, and it’s something for the fans to be excited about, too.”

The Premier Arena Soccer League is the official developmental league of the Major Arena Soccer League. Last season it had 22 teams playing in four divisions – the Midwest, Southwest, Rocky Mountain and South Central.

The Risers will compete in the Midwest Division, according to Schmitt. Last year the division had six teams – the Chicago Mustangs, Cincinnati Swerve, Illinois Shockwave, FC Indiana Lions, Paducah Pumas, and FC Adrenaline, a team the Risers have played in the summer.

“They are expecting those teams back, as well as new teams out of Detroit and Cleveland,” Schmitt said.

The Risers have reason to believe that they will be competitive in their first season of indoor soccer.

That’s because Schmitt expects a lot of players from this summer’s squad to also play in the winter. The Risers, who opened the season with an 0-5 record, currently have a three-game winning streak and are 4-5-1 overall.

The Risers have focused on building a roster comprised largely of talented local players, with the hope that many will return, season after season.

“We’ll have the guys (from the summer team) who are out of college, which amounts to about 15,” said Schmitt, who added that the winter team will carry 20 players. “The players loved it last winter and everybody is excited about it. I’m not anticipating many problems getting the guys to commit.”

“There are so many benefits to playing – either in practice or in games – nine months out of the year,” added Schmitt, who expects training camp to begin in November. “The players can stay sharp and fans can come out and watch a lot more soccer and have more fun.”Harbo Cinema web ad