By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Risers have been taking the long road home in the 2017 summer soccer season.

That’s by design.

The Risers, in their third year of existence, arranged to have the first five games of their current summer season played on the road. They did so because they figured they might need a little extra time to locate a new home field.

That issue was settled last week, and on Tuesday the team announced that the Risers’ new home will be Kehren Stadium, the legendary football field on the campus of Muskegon Catholic Central High School.

The home opener at MCC will be June 10 at 6 p.m. against Grand Rapids Ole.

The Risers, who are 1-1-1 on the season so far, will play road games each of the next two weekends, then will have home games every Saturday at 6 p.m. between June 10 and Aug. 12, with the exception of July 1 and July 29.

The June 24 game will be played in Grand Haven.

After being an independent team for two summers, the Risers are playing their inaugural season in the Premier League of America.

‘It’s a very central location – not foo far north or south,” said Risers owner Matt Schmitt about Muskegon Catholic. “People can come together at that location. It’s surrounded by historic neighborhoods and Muskegon attractions. We will not only be offering a soccer experience, but a Muskegon experience, before and after the games, which is crucial to our goal of helping to promote the Muskegon area.”

Schmitt said a few fans were consulted about the possible use of the MCC football stadium, and they very much liked the idea.

“We are always using a select few supporters as a sounding board, and everything we’ve heard so far has been very positive,” he said. “The biggest thing is that we’ve moved into the city of Muskegon.”

The Risers played most of their home games in their first two outdoor seasons at Reeths-Puffer High School in Muskegon Township. But all along they were striving to find a home closer to the downtown Muskegon area.

They worked for several years to develop their own stadium along the Muskegon Lake shoreline near the downtown area, but that plan remains on hold.

Last summer the Risers played their final home game at Nelson School near the downtown district, and worked over the winter to make Nelson a permanent home.

But talks with Muskegon Public Schools never led to a deal, and the Risers were forced to look elsewhere for a home field.

The team made the connection with Muskegon Catholic over the last few weeks, and a final deal was struck last Thursday, according to Schmitt.

“We started to sense that things were not going to move forward (with the Nelson School location), so we reached out to MCC, kind of threw the idea out there, and their leadership took it and ran with it,” Schmitt said.

MCC’s Kehren Stadium will provide the Risers with extra seating capacity, something that was lacking at the Reeths-Puffer soccer facility, Schmitt said.

The Risers became part of a winter league in January, and played their home games at L.C. Walker Arena. The attendance at those games indicted that public interest in the team is growing, and more seating would be necessary for the outdoor season.

Last summer the outdoor Risers averaged between 750 and 1,000 fans per game, and the indoor team generally doubled that, according to Schmitt.

“Being downtown and having additional seating were the two main factors,” Schmitt said. “At Muskegon Catholic, having home and away bleachers will allow more scalability. Every indication we had from the indoor season was that more and more people are following the team, and we wanted to accommodate the level of interest.”

The Risers and Muskegon Catholic have a one-year agreement, but that will likely expand into a multi-season deal, Schmitt said.

The team still hopes to eventually have its own stadium on the Muskegon Lake waterfront, but there are other sports-related projects being considered for that area, so the plan is on hold for now, according to Schmitt.

“There are other projects in the works that would  put athletic facilities (in the downtown area),” Schmitt said. “I don’t know what the specifics are, just that there are other groups looking to put facilities down there. So we’re going to sit back and see what comes to fruition.”

The deal with Muskegon Catholic developed in recent weeks, when it became clear that the team was not going to strike a deal to use the Nelson School facility.

Until the MCC deal was finalized, the Risers were not sure where they would be playing their home games, despite the fact that they were only weeks away from their home opener.

Going back to Reeths-Puffer would have been a possibility, but that was no sure thing, Schmitt said.

“We never asked them,” Schmitt said about returning to R-P. “We had only talked to two schools, Muskegon and Muskegon Catholic. We were prepared to take it to the final hour to secure either of those locations, to make sure the team was more connected to the city of Muskegon.

“I had a really good feeling that the deal with MCC was going to go through.”