By Justin Haggerty
Of the 19 players on the Risers’ opening roster, nine hail from the Muskegon area, and 12 have played with the Risers during their two successful outdoor summer seasons, in 2015 and 2016.
Risers Coach Ben Ritsema, whose team will open against Detroit-based Waza Flo Premier on Friday night at 7 p.m., has coached most of the players on the roster in the past.
“I’m familiar with almost everyone on the team,” said Ritsema, who coached the outdoor Risers for the first time last summer and is also the men’s soccer coach at Muskegon Community College. “Our first practice, they already knew me, I already knew them. We connected right off the bat. They already knew my style, I knew their style, so it’s been really good.
“I pulled some of my talented players from Muskegon Community College, some local boys that I think will do a really good job for us.”
One of the local players is Miguel Flores, a Muskegon High School grad who attained All-Region status in his two years at MCC.
Other local Risers who have suited up for Muskegon Community College are Cody Loss, Justin Cartwright, Michael Schmitt and Ryan Wagenmaker from Reeths-Puffer, Jubenal Rodriguez from Muskegon High School and Noah Hendricks from Fruitport.
Rich Visser and Charlie Wick, both Holland natives, are also on the roster. Visser played at Hope College and Davenport University while Wick played at MCC and Davenport.
Cameron Brandow from Muskegon High School and Matt Kowalski from North Muskegon are on the practice squad.
While many of the Risers are from the area, Ritsema has connections throughout the soccer world, and has explored many avenues to field the most competitive team possible.
He brought in former University of Michigan standout Tim Bergsma, who will be the starting goalkeeper. Stu Collins returns from the outdoor Risers and will be the captain of the indoor team.
Collins, who hails from Cork, Ireland, is one of three international players on the squad. The others are TJ Ifaturoti of Lagos, Nigeria and Wilfredo Diaz of Xela, Guatemala.
Alex Tozer, a fan favorite from the first outdoor Risers season, returns after playing last season in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Tozer has played professionally since he was 18-years-old, including multiple seasons in the Major Arena Soccer League, the highest level of indoor soccer in the United States.
“He’s played a couple seasons in (the MASL), so having him play in our league, which is the second division of indoor soccer in the U.S., is a good signing for us,” Ritsema said.
Ritsema said the PASL will be a good fit for Muskegon because of its size and the availability of L.C. Walker Arena, which has a seating capacity of about 4,000.
“The PASL is mostly in some smaller towns that probably couldn’t support a Major Arena Soccer League team, so Muskegon fits that model really, really well,” Ritsema said. “It’s great that we have L.C. Walker Arena in our town.
“Walker Arena has the highest seating capacity in the entire league, so we’re really thankful. If we didn’t have Walker Arena in town, we probably wouldn’t have the team.”
The PASL features a lot of players who cut their teeth in college soccer, at the Division 1, 2 or NAIA level. Most of the Risers fit that description, and have experience playing against elite competition.
The Risers will definitely be challenged in the PASL, and it’s tough to predict how the team will fare in its first indoor season. Not all of the players have indoor soccer experience at this level.
“The league doesn’t really have many games online, so I wasn’t really able to see what kind of competition we’re up against,” Ritsema said. “But I know that we are going to seed well.
“I can’t say that we’re going to win our conference, but I think we have enough talent on the field to win some games.”