BY JEFF ARNOLD
For the Sun-Times
Peter Wilt acknowledged that his chances of bringing a North American Soccer League franchise back to Chicago are far from a sure thing. Still, even in the earliest stages of research and development, Wilt — who helped launch the Fire in 1997 — remains cautiously optimistic.
More than 30 years have passed since the Sting played in the NASL. An event Monday night introduced the idea of bringing an NASL team back as soon as 2017, and Wilt indicated the timing might be right.
There are plenty of questions. Where would the club play? How would the franchise be welcomed by soccer fans who already have the Fire? Perhaps most importantly, could a team in the second-tier NASL maintain enough support to be sustainable?
Wilt is overseeing a grass-roots effort that would tap into every level of soccer from around the region and draw support from the city and community. Hence the club’s slogan, “Soccer For Our City.”
“Any sports team should belong to a community of people,” Wilt said Tuesday. “It’s not an owner’s team, management’s team. Ultimately, those people are caretakers. But it belongs to the fans.”
Wilt will build off a planning model used when he served as general manager of the Indy 11 NASL club in Indianapolis, though the demographics between the cities are different. He also will lean on his experiences with the Fire while still stressing the home-grown -nature of his efforts.
Wilt plans to take a craft-beer approach to his Chicago soccer hopes, hoping fans will appreciate the local flavor of the club. But he admits there is a caveat.
“It’s not going to be the best soccer people can consume. Nor will it be the least expensive,” he said. “People can just turn on their television or their laptop and watch much better [international] soccer for free. So we need to create emotional connections that will make people cheer for this club.”
More information is available on the group’s website (chicagonasl.com), which launched Monday.
New Zealand’s famed All Blacks World Cup champion rugby club will return to Chicago in November, two years after it routed the USA Eagles national team 74-6 in front of 61,500 fans at Soldier Field.
The New Zealanders will face the Irish national team, the defending European Six Nations champions, Nov. 5 at Soldier Field as part of “Rugby Weekend.”
The USA Eagles will face New Zealand’s Maori All Blacks on Nov. 4 at Toyota Park. Tickets for the weekend go on sale April 1. For more -information, go to theerugbyweekend.com.
Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold.