By Andrew Johnson

MUSKEGON – Playing tougher competition can bring tough results, at least in the beginning.

The Muskegon Risers indoor soccer team has already discovered that.

Last winter the Risers spent their first indoor season as a member of the Premier Arena Soccer League, which is considered a Division 3 league.

They did well, compiling a 5-2-3 record and barely missing the league playoffs, despite the fact that many of their players had limited indoor soccer experience.

This year the Risers have moved to the Major Arena Soccer League 2, which is a step up the competitive ladder from the PASL. Their season began with two road games in mid-December, and they quickly learned that they will have to play much better to keep pace with their new rivals.

The Risers lost both games pretty badly – 15-4 to the Chicago Mustangs and 8-2 to the Cincinnati Swerve.

They will try to reverse their fortunes in their first two home games this weekend, on Friday against the Chicago Mustangs and on Saturday against familiar foe Detroit Waza Flo.

North Muskegon grad Justice Sikkema in action for the Risers last season.

Both games will be at L.C. Walker Arena at 7 p.m.

“It’s a much higher level,” said Risers head coach Ben Ritsema about the new league. “Last year we played in Division 3 and this year we will be Division 2. Many professional teams put a team into this league and have many more resources.

“Every game we’ll be doing some learning, and we have some teams that we’ll play against who have better talent. But we want to be competitive and win some games by being hard-working on defense. We really have to pick our opportunities of when we can push forward. We really improved that in Game 2 from Game 1, and that will probably be what I will be stressing the most.”

The Risers headed into the new season with a lot of new faces. Only eight players return from last year’s team.

They also have a roster that is very Muskegon-oriented. A total of 13 players on the 30-man roster (20 are allowed to dress for games) are from the area, which is a rarity in semi-pro soccer, according to Ritsema.

Ten players have experience with the Muskegon Community College men’s soccer team.

“It’s nice that fans will know some of the players when they come watch,” the coach said. “It’s pretty unique for a Major Arena Soccer League 2 team to have so many local guys. Most teams only have three of four local guys.”

Some of the more well-known local players on the squad are former high school stars, including Noah Hendricks from Fruitport, Justice Sikkema from North Muskegon and Cody Loss from Reeths-Puffer.

The local connection also features team owner Matt Schmitt, a former Reeths-Puffer and University of Michigan standout, as well as his brother Michael Schmitt, who excelled at Reeths-Puffer and the University of Charleston.

TJ Ifaturoti, seen here about to unleash a shot last season, is expected to be a leading scorer for the Risers again this season.

Michael Schmitt, who played with the indoor Risers last season, has developed into a defensive anchor for the team, according to Ritsema.

“He’s one of our stronger defenders,” Ritsema said. “He’s really improved and maturing. He’s solid in the back and really knows the indoor game well.”

Muskegon fans will happily welcome back two foreign-born players – Stu Collins from Ireland and TJ Ifaturoti from Nigeria – who both played key roles for the Risers last season.

Ifaturoti was one of the team’s most dangerous offensive players last year, and is expected to be a scoring threat again.

“He joined halfway through last year and he really gives us speed up top along with a scoring threat,” Ritsema said.

Also back from last year is starting goalie Tim Bergsma, who played at the University of Michigan. He was in goal for the first two games in December, but is likely to miss both home games this weekend due to work commitments.

The Risers are trying out three new goalies this week, hoping to find a quality substitute who can step in and play well on Friday and Saturday, according to Ritsema.

There will likely be other new faces on the roster as the season progresses, Ritsema said. Competing in a tougher league means the Risers will have to be constantly on the lookout for players who can give them an extra edge.

“Through every season we always look to add more talent,” Ritsema said. “We’ve got a couple more guys coming in who we’ll look at and see if they can make a difference. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two got an invite to play with us this weekend.”

The Risers will have several new welcome features for home games this year.

They will play on the new turf that was first used by the West Michigan Ironmen indoor football team last season. They will also have new goals, which are embedded into the walls of the playing surface, replacing the temporary goals that were used last year.

“I just think it will add so much more to the game when people come out to watch,” Ritsema said about the new turf and goals. “All of the other places I’ve been to, nobody has a better facility than us. We have the best facility and arena in the league, at least in our division.”

Muskegon Risers 2017-18 indoor roster

Jay Toric (Grand Rapids, MI)
Jacob Vanderlaan (Grand Haven, MI/Oakland University)
Jubenal Rodriquez (Muskegon, MI/Muskegon CC & Kendall College of Art and Design)
Brandon Dinsmore (Byron Center, MI/Indiana Tech)
Cody Loss (Muskegon, MI/Muskegon CC)
Franco Calabrese (Grand Rapids, MI/Aquinas College)
William Guerrero (Monterrey, Mexico/Davenport University)
Stuart Collins (Cork, Ireland/Davenport University)
Nick Capisciolto (Hudsonville, MI/Calvin College)
Preto Almeida (Goiânia, Brazil/Salgado de Oliveira University)
TJ Ifaturoti (Lagos, Nigeria/Davenport University)
Justice Sikkema (Muskegon, MI/York St. John University)
Adam Skidmore (Muskegon, MI/Grand Valley State University)
Ryan Wagenmaker (Muskegon, MI/Muskegon CC & Aquinas College)
Noah Sorn (Muskegon, MI/Muskegon CC)
Patryk Biel (Grandville, MI/Aquinas College)
Michael Vollmer (Grand Haven, MI/Calvin College & Grand Valley State University)
Adam Clauss (Grand Haven, MI/University of Detroit Mercy)
Noah Hendricks (Muskegon, MI/Muskegon CC)
Job Potter (Rockford, MI/Mount Vernon Nazarene University)
Cameron Brandow (Muskegon, MI/Muskegon CC)
Paris Martins (Iowa City, Iowa/Wartburg College)
Zach Grantham (Otsego, MI/Indiana Wesleyan University)
Antonio Rodriguez (Muskegon, MI/Muskegon CC)
Matt Schmitt (Muskegon, MI/University of Michigan)
Michael Schmitt (Muskegon, MI/Muskegon CC & University of Charleston)
Kody Harrell (Muskegon, MI/Muskegon CC & University of Charleston)
Joe Broekhuizen (Grand Rapids, MI/Calvin College)
James Hendricks (Muskegon, MI/Muskegon CC)
Tim Bergsma (Beverly Hills, MI/University of Michigan)