As the sound of drums fills a hot summer night in Peoria, 22 college athletes push and pull against the cool turf at Shea Stadium looking to get the upper hand. Peoria now has a soccer team, and they will aim to provide more than just a 90-minute game.
What originally started as a simple idea back in the fall of 2019 would grow a potential schedule behind itself in a short amount of time. In spite of this fast growth, it would all be put on hold in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The two-year hiatus has given us time to iron out some of the smaller details and get our social media footprint going,” Bradley soccer head coach Jim DeRose, who helped start Peoria City, said. “It’s a grassroots thing that we hope in two or three years… [to be able to] take it to the USL League One and to a professional level.”
The USL League Two provides an opportunity for college soccer players to play pre-professional soccer during the summer while still enrolled in school. Players come from both the United States and Canada and the teams are one of the many pathways to professional soccer. In fact, Peoria City is playing with three Peoria Notre Dame alums and one Morton alum.
“For the soccer community to have a team to come and support and call their own, I think it’s fun for locals,” Peoria City general manager Tim Regan said. “And for those that love the game, it’s a chance to watch a good standard because the league is full of quality players.”
Peoria City was placed in the newly formed Central Conference Deep North Division with five other franchises. In the division are defending USL League Two champions Des Moines Menace as well as FC Manitoba, St. Croix SC and the Thunder Bay Chill.
While Peoria has always had the Chiefs and the Rivermen to support, the city has never really had a professional soccer team. The potential for the development of a strong fan culture like that of Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers’ “Timbers Army” is certainly a possibility.
“We see a group of people that is already trying to lead that [fan group] and as you know you want supporters’ groups to be led by the supporters,” DeRose said.
Peoria City’s popular Five Bars events, named after the team’s crest that uses five bars, each representing a different city council district, have so far been successful in exposing Peoria to this new team.
“What really made me feel great was that we brought some T-shirts to sell,” DeRose said. “I thought we would sell three T-shirts, and then we went on and sold 40 T-shirts and multiple season passes from that one event.”
Peoria City’s debut match against fellow debutant Minneapolis City SC on May 14 ended level at two after 90 minutes, and two years in the making.
The team hits the road for a rematch today against Minneapolis City in Golden Valley, Minnesota. Afterwards, Peoria City returns home to Shea Stadium to face off against the Des Moines Menace on May 27.
“We’re hoping when people get through the gate that it’s an experience and more than just a 90-minute soccer game,” DeRose said.