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Soccer's Ascent
New Springs franchise kicks off season

click to enlarge Head coach Mark Plakorus is ready to rumble - SCOTT LARRICK

There is a giddiness in the air. Some people call it spring fever; some people call it love; some of us just get out our cleats and call it soccer.

The spring season is upon us and along with blooming daffodils, this year a new amateur soccer team is in town. With brand new owners, managers, coaches and players, the Colorado Springs Ascent open their season this Saturday at Sandcreek Stadium against the Kansas City Brass.

Soccer at this level is not new to the Springs. Many fans followed the Colorado Springs Stampede, who brought to the Springs a higher level of soccer in 1994, but due to financial and personnel shortages closed their doors at the end of the 1999 season.

Picking up where the Stampede left off, the Ascent organization has some new goals in mind and a better sense of organization.

"We've realized the only way we're going to succeed is with a network of people," said shareholder Jonathan Williams. "We're not going to have a one- or two-man show."


The league

The Colorado Springs Ascent is in the Premier Development League of the United Soccer Leagues, which is the largest national amateur league in the United States. Three levels below professional Major League Soccer and the next level of play after college, the Acent will feature rising soccer stars continuing to develop their sport at a high level.

"We are strictly amateur," said Ted D'Arcy, also an Ascent shareholder. "It gives us the flexibility to bring the top college kids on board without jeopardizing their eligibility while giving them some good national exposure."

As one of five teams in the Rocky Mountain Conference, the Ascent will compete against teams from Denver, Boulder, Kansas City, and Wichita along with a few exhibition matches scattered throughout the season which may include a match against the Colorado Rapids.


The team

Hoping to draw a bigger fan base than in the past, the Ascent will concentrate on recruiting players primarily from the southern Colorado area. "We want people to feel like it's their players representing their city," said Jim LeRoux, an Ascent shareholder and former Stampede player.

Leading the team is head coach Mark Plakorus. An Air Force Captain and the assistant women's soccer coach at the Air Force Academy, Plakorus has played soccer all of his life and has coached for the past 12 years. "I've coached at every level from little kids to high school players to the college level," said Plakorus at a recent Ascent practice. "I'm excited to move up to the next level."

All of the players express a great deal of confidence in Plakorus as head coach and are excited to meet his challenges and goals for the season which are congruous with the rest of the franchise. "I want to give these players an environment where they can continue to develop and go on to the next level of professional soccer," said Plakorus. "And for the kids still in college, I want to give them an opportunity to go back to their college teams and contribute and advance."

The roster is still growing, but those who have made commitments come mostly from local colleges and universities such as the Air Force Academy, UCCS, Colorado College, University of Southern Colorado and Fort Lewis College.

Rich Cullen is one standout who both the coach and owners talk about excitedly. After four successful seasons as goalkeeper with the Division I men's soccer team at the Air Force Academy, Cullen was honored as Most Valuable Player his senior year and was selected to the first team in the Mountain Pacific Conference. Cullen was also recently drafted by the Colorado Rapids. "I was drafted 6th round with the Rapids which means there is no contract involved, because I have to fulfill a two-year military commitment here in the Springs," Cullen commented modestly.

Cullen will coach at the Air Force Academy next year and commute to Denver to practice and compete with the Rapids, but he is excited to play at the next level with the Ascent this season. "You know, no matter what level it is, if it's after college, you step up your game," Cullen said.

The franchise is also working on recruiting a few players from Mexico. "It's nice to have a few internationals," said D'Arcy. "Especially if the internationals come up from Mexico, because there is a growing Latino community here and we would want to get them involved and excited about the team."

With plans in the works to get Springs youth soccer clubs involved in their games, the Ascent wants to create a community for soccer fans while providing elite amateur competition. Tickets are inexpensive and can be even cheaper with a season pass. Local soccer businesses such as the Soccer Shop and the Soccer Haus are offering vouchers for children under 12 to get in free.

"We want to make it an event and not just a game," said LeRoux. "We came into this venture knowing we could lose everything, yet, we have so much faith and confidence in the players and people in the city that we think they can make it happen."


CAPSULE

Colorado Springs Ascent vs. Kansas City Brass

Sandcreek Stadium, just east of Barnes Road and Powers Blvd., next to Sky Sox Stadium

Sat., April 22, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $3-$5 at the gate. Call 282-9452 for season ticket information, or a full home game schedule.

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