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With GM Regan taking double duty as coach, Peoria City Soccer looks to build on solid inaugural season

Peoria City's Abdel Talabi, center, celebrates after scoring a goal against St. Charles FC in Saturday's USL2 season opener at Shea Stadium.
J. Brown Photographs / Courtesy Peoria City Soccer
Peoria City's Abdel Talabi, center, celebrates after scoring a goal against St. Charles FC in Saturday's USL2 season opener at Shea Stadium. Talabi converted a header off a corner kick by Myles Sophanavong.

The second season is underway for the semi-professional Peoria City Soccer franchise, with a new — but familiar — head coach leading the way.

Club general manager Tim Regan, a former Bradley University standout (1999-2002) and Major League Soccer pro, has added the coaching role to his duties.

An assistant coach on the current Bradley staff, Regan takes over for Ruben Resendes, who guided Peoria City to a 6-3-3 record and a playoff appearance as a USL League 2 expansion team.

Peoria City Soccer head coach and general manager Tim Regan.
Joe Deacon
Peoria City Soccer head coach and general manager Tim Regan.

The team set its attendance record last Saturday with a crowd of 1,373 fans on hand at Shea Stadium for the season opener, although Peoria absorbed a 3-2 loss to St. Charles FC.

They’ll look to bounce back and earn their first win of the year Friday when they host FC Wichita in a 7:30 p.m. home contest. Tailgating begins three hours before kickoff.

WCBU reporter Joe Deacon talks with Regan about the team’s expectations for the rest of the season, and why he’s serving as the coach this year.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

After serving as general manager for Peoria City’s inaugural season last year, what motivated you to add the head coaching role to your duties for this season?

Tim Regan: There are a lot of reasons for having me as the head coach this year. First off, the guy who did a really good job in the first year was unavailable. So availability is a key aspect, and I was able to step in and serve in the role this season.

You’re very familiar with the Peoria soccer community, have been connected to this area for more than two decades now. For those who may not know, can you tell us a little bit about your background and experience?

Regan: Yeah, I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version of that one. I went to school here at Bradley University, so I spent four years on the soccer team playing for Jim DeRose, who’s my current boss as the head coach still with the program. I left Peoria a little bit early from college and took off and played soccer, Major League Soccer, for a few years. I continued to work in the professional game as a scout for Toronto FC, transitioned into another scouting role for the U.S. Soccer Federation, then into the coaching world, where I did a little bit of youth and then professional team called Indy Eleven, which plays in the second division in our country. I came back to Bradley University to join Coach DeRose as his assistant, and I start my seventh season this coming year.

Turning back to Peoria City, how successful would you rate the club’s first season and how would you hope to build on it for this year?

Regan: For a starting club to make the playoffs, number one, is a challenge because you have to acquire the players, keep the players and make the performance happen all year long, all summer long. Second, you need to make sure that you have something to draw people in — and for the guys that come play in our team, it’s the crowd, it’s the environment. It’s a real gameday experience that you don’t see a lot of times in this USL2 league. So I would say that on our end, we had a really fantastic first year.

You talk about the crowd; what is the biggest key to growing interest in this team and in this level of soccer here?

Regan: There’s a couple of different aspects to our sport; it’s a weird one, soccer. For most fans, when you go to a game, you show up, you pay your ticket, you sit in your seat, and you enjoy the sporting event — no different than local theater or anything of the sort in the arts community.

But for soccer, we have a unique thing that we call supporters clubs, and we have one called “The 309,” and they are grassroots. It’s a couple of local guys that are passionate soccer fans – and to have your own team called Peoria City in your backyard, show up, support it, make your own chants, make your own scarves, make your own name of the group “The 309” — they have a real passion for the sport.

In our last season, they were out there in good numbers and they’ve already enhanced that this year to be really impressive. They’re over 300 as a group total, in terms of the online support, and then in person there between 50 and 100 every game. They don’t just sit and watch; they sing, they chant, they have drums, megaphones. It creates a different environment than you’re used to seeing in normal sporting events.

Tell us a little bit about the structure of USL2, what it’s meant to be, how many teams, and all that’s involved.

Regan: It continues to grow. They’ve got up to almost 130 teams this year; just a few years ago, it was as low as 80. The league has always touted itself as “the pathway to pro.” What that means is for most college-age players, at some point during their career, they’ve probably spent some time in the USL2, especially those that have ambition to play professionally. So when you see hashtag “path to pro,” that’s where the league is founded on, and it’s truthful. I myself as a player played in this league in 1999 and made my way to the professional game, so I’m living proof that “path to pro” is real.

Who are some of the key players on this year’s team that fans should notice?

Regan: Well, first we have our local players and I think that’s always a great sell. The Peoria soccer community is strong, it’s always been big in number. It’s impossible to groom perfect players every year, so there’s always these kind of given years where there’s really top level guys and other years where it’s a little bit more just really good college players at any level.

So, Myles Sophanavong is one of our local players. He grew up in Washington and went to high school here in Peoria at Peoria Notre Dame. Wesley Gibson’s from Morton, went to high school at Morton. Both of them play collegiately, at Wisconsin-Green Bay and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (respectively). We also have Noah Madrigal, who’s a local player that went to Peoria Notre Dame and is currently at Marquette University.

There are some other younger guys that are still making their footprint in the college game and trying to make their skills a little bit better this summer so that next year when you look up their names, they have stats and games played in respective schools at Division I, II and III.

The team opened the season last Saturday with a 3-2 loss to St. Charles at Shea Stadium. What were your takeaways from that match? What did you see that you liked, and what would you want to improve?

Regan: Well unfortunately, since we didn’t win I’ll point to my favorite part, which was the crowd: Spectacular. We set our attendance record, and (had) food trucks in the parking lot, DJ, tailgate … great support all along from all of our local sponsors and Central States Media and the work they do through food trucks support, work through all the River City Brews — 10 different local establishments that support the club. The more you have your name out, the more people say, “Oh yeah, that’s the soccer team that plays over at Shea Stadium,” and they’re going to show up and enjoy the party and then enjoy the soccer game.

On the soccer front, you got a lot of goals, so if you’re a neutral observer, just learning the game for the first time, the game is pretty exciting there. It’s a pretty wide open, fluid style of play, as we might say, and really entertaining to watch.

What are your expectations for Friday’s second contest when you host FC Wichita?

Regan: All these games are just really difficult to judge who’s going to win because each week a team could look totally different, which is the nature of the summertime. You might have as many as 30 or 40 players on your roster, so to say that the opposing coach knows exactly what he’s doing and I know exactly what I’m doing is probably false. We know our players, but who’s available, who’s healthy, who’s ready to play? So each game is just, we go in and we know it’s going to be really competitive.

When you say you can have up to 30 players on a roster, how many can you use in each match?

Regan: On a game day, you can dress 18. You start 11 and you can sub as many as seven. So the rostering (of) big numbers, it’s just for the sake that in a summer time there are so many individual stories – players that are in for short terms; some players have to go back and deal with school things; family issues; vacations. This summertime for them as it is a time to enhance their game before they go back to their university environments.

So what’s the outlook for the rest of the season? What goals have you set for the team?

Regan: Well, we have to match last year which is to get back to the playoffs. We got off on the wrong foot with the first game being a loss, but we’ve got 11 more games and plenty of time to make that up.

Well, how far could you potentially go in the playoffs? I mean again, you said there’s so many teams in the league.

Regan: Yeah, there are. The playoffs are 32 teams, and you’re divided by division and conference. So in our (Heartland) Division, two teams will make the playoffs and we’ll face off against two other teams from the Great Lakes Division, which we did last year. So Heartland against Great Lakes, and then that’s when it becomes really intense because the games are close. You play Friday-Sunday, and it’s a quick turnaround physically for the players. So if you get to that point, you’re guaranteed for just the classic just boxing match style, go at it and see who can win.

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.