Indoor soccer league scouts local talent

By Ryan Buck

As of 2007, Kiki Willis, likely the best soccer talent to emerge from the Mahoning Valley, was finished with his professional soccer career.

Willis, a 2005 Cardinal Mooney graduate, kickstarted the Cardinals’ unprecedented run of success that included a state championship in 2002 on his way to the Ohio state record for career goals.

A stint with D.C. United, of Major League Soccer, appeared to conclude a career that was as heralded as any high school and college player in the United States. That is until this winter, when the Youngstown Nighthawks and their leadership team circulated their impending formation and entrance into the Major Arena Soccer League.

“I actually heard about it through a friend and he told me that a professional team was coming to Youngstown,” said Willis, 28. “I caught wind of it and decided to come and try out as well.

“The reception’s been great. I think this is a great opportunity for the city of Youngstown and for me as well. It’s been nothing but positive. The team, the organization, the coaching staff; it’s all positive and it’s been pretty uplifting to be here with these guys.

“It feels great. I’m working to get back in shape and get my craft back to where it was and so far it’s been good.”

Willis was part of a tryout Thursday at Farmer Jim’s Indoor Soccer Complex in Cortland. Team officials said up to 30 players participated with more talent from Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania expected to attend the tryout series.

The Nighthawks plan to have a team in the MASL and a developmental program.

“We started brainstorming last fall,” said Vice President Joshua Auden, a North Jackson native who grew up around the game.

“We wanted to get a feel so we launched some emails and made some calls to the local youth organizations and we got a huge response that everybody wanted it to come to Youngstown. We kind of went from there.

“We’re gathering players and sponsors and gathering community awareness and hopefully, in the 2015 season in November, we’ll be in the MASL. We have scrimmages coming up and we’re going to be hosting tournaments [at Farmer Jim’s] and at other facilities,” Auden said.

“We’ve had a great turnout and great reaction from the community.”

The MASL has four divisions with 24 teams across the country. The nearest competitors would be teams from Harrisburg (Penn.), Rochester (N.Y.), Baltimore, Syracuse (N.Y.) and Detroit. The league, according to Owner-President Ed Holmes, is the product of a 2014 merger between the Major Indoor Soccer League, which once house the Cleveland Crunch, and the Premier Arena Soccer League.

According to its website, the MASL is the largest professional indoor soccer league in the country.

“We understand what the league wants, how it works and we’re working on making that a reality,” Holmes said. “We understand the process and when we’re ready, we’ll reach out to them and discuss what they have in store for us.

“We know they’ve wanted a team in this area for some time.”

The organization’s goal is to play in the Covelli Centre, with seating and space ideal for their pursuits.

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