Fort Wayne FC general manager Greg Mauch is calling 2021 “the second inaugural season” of the club after the 2020 season was washed out by COVID-19.
Even though he and the staff had put together a roster last season, Mauch said he was awake at 3:30 Monday morning in anticipation of the day's open tryouts
“I'm over the moon. I couldn't sleep. I felt like I gotta do something. There are days when it's scary, but it's overwhelmingly exciting,” Mauch said of the new year. “Last year, when I got that email (that the season was canceled), you knew it was coming. But it hits you right between the eyes. It threw me back in my chair. But it's not going to happen this time, we're going to get the season in.”
About 85 players arrived at the Plex South on Monday in the hopes of catching the eye of the coaching staff. The standouts will be asked to join the invitation-only tryouts March 1, which will also include players named to the squad last year and a few prospects Fort Wayne FC has been scouting. Thirty-seven players were named to the 2020 roster.
Mauch said the number of players trying out for the team is higher than last year.
“We thought we'd drained the market last year for this area, but we've got guys from Seattle, New York, Louisville,” Mauch said. “A lot of these guys still have the itch, and they want to see how far up the ladder they can climb. And we're going to be able to provide a legitimate vehicle for them to do that.”
Developments have raised the club's profile. DaMarcus Beasley, the retired US men's national team standout and the most notable soccer player to come out of Fort Wayne, joined the team's ownership group, and in October the United Soccer League announced Fort Wayne FC would join the Great Lakes Division of League Two for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. The Fort Wayne club will be promoted to USL League One in 2023.
“They're going to be nervous, obviously. It's the first day, they're trying to make an impression,” Beasley said. “My advice would be to relax and show why they're here. Don't try to do too much, don't try to do things you're not really accustomed to. Just play the way you know how to play, and you'll shine.”
One of the players hoping to stay in the professional game, former Columbus North and DePauw player Andrew Gold, said he took part in six or seven tryouts after college, but tore his ACL last January before starting preseason training with a team in Detroit.
“It's a mix of emotions. It's exciting, first and foremost. It's also nice because I know a lot of the guys here, I know some of the staff, so it's definitely a comfortable place to go and try out,” Gold said. “But also, a mix of jitters. It's the first time I've played meaningful soccer in about a year, so there's going to be rust and there's going to be moments where I feel unpolished.”
Jordan Morris, a Huntington University junior from South Bend, said his college coaching staff gave him the idea to try out.
“I was kind of nervous at first, and then I started thinking about it, and there's not really anything to lose,” he said. “Obviously there's going to be great players and not-so-great players. It's fun for the community, and you just have to go out there and play your hardest.”