Igor Kouzine is convinced that this is the right time and Delaware is the right place for a professional soccer team. But only time will tell if he’s correct or the Delaware Stars will be another failed attempt at establishing the world’s most popular sport in the First State.
Kouzine is the owner of the Delaware Stars, who are in their first season in the American Soccer League, which is a professional developmental league that gives young players fresh out of college a chance to refine their games and, hopefully, set them up for bigger and better things in more advanced leagues here and overseas. Kouzine said that last year more than a dozen ASL players were signed by higher classified leagues.
The Stars have had mixed success on the pitch in their inaugural season – they’re 3-0-3 and in seventh place in the 10-team league going into Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against the New Hampshire Bobcats at the Stars’ temporary home at Tower Hill School in Wilmington. Other teams in the ASL include Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Long Island, N.Y., Lancaster, Pa., New England and the first-place Philadelphia Fury.
For more information on the team and the league, visit the Stars’ website at delawarestars.com.
“We’re very pleased with the way the team has played and the way the community has supported us, especially considering this is our first season in the league and we really didn’t have as much time as we would have liked to get this thing off the ground,’’ Kouzine said. “Delaware really supports soccer and, per capita, Delaware has more kids in youth leagues than Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. So, we’re very optimistic that we can establish ourselves here and put out a winning product on and off the pitch.”
By far, the most successful soccer team to make its home in our state was the Delaware Wizards, who played in the U.S. Interregional League from 1993-2000. And this is actually the second time Delaware has had a team in the ASL – the Delaware Wings were part of the league from 1972-74.
None of those teams survived, but Kouzine is confident that soccer is now popular enough and established enough to not only survive, but also to thrive.
“All you have to do is look at the success the [Philadelphia] Union is having and the grass roots support that really brought that team to our area,’’ Kouzine said of the team that currently plays in Major League Soccer, the only Division I league in the United States.
“And that will also be the key to our success, getting that grass roots support and growing from there,” he added. “We know it won’t be easy and there will be some growing pains, but I’m convinced this will be a success, especially if we can find a home pitch that works for the players and the fans.”
The Stars played their first games at Alexis I. du Pont High before shifting to Tower Hill for the rest of the season. Kouzine said there are many terrific soccer fields in Delaware for lower amateur leagues, but they lack either the locker room and training facilities or the lights and/or seating capacity his team needs. Kouzine said his dream is to have a field built near the Riverfront as a companion to Frawley Stadium, home of baseball’s Blue Rocks.
The Stars coach is David Pettican, who has coached for 25 years in England and the U.S. And the Stars have strong local ties, as at least five players on their 19-man roster have connections to Delaware: Goalkeeper Ignacio Farias (Goldey Beacom College), defenseman Steve Taylor (Newark High), defenseman Terah Garrett (Smyrna High and Goldey Beacom), midfielder Kyle Nuel (University of Delaware, where he owns the school record for most games played, with 82) and forward Kwame Appiah (Goldey Beacom and currently the coach at Tatnall School).
The Stars also have a strong international flavor, with players from Venezuala, France, England, Liberia and Haiti.
“All of these players have talent and our goal is to give them the added skills and experience they need to play at higher levels,’’ Kouzine said. “If we can do that and entertain our fans, then the Stars will be a success and we will have fulfilled our mission.”