The Salt Lake Sting professional soccer team will be back for another season at Derks Field - with a Russian coach, several new players and official non-profit status.
Team officials announced at a press conference Thursday that the Sting has been reorganized as a foundation, and that it will seek donations and volunteer help to keep it afloat."We have a coach on hand, we're on the schedule (of the nine-team American Professional Soccer League), there's a lot of positive things happening for us," said Brad Duckworth of the team's operating committee.
Duckworth said the widespread soccer participation - highest per capita in the United States - in Utah convinced him and others that the Sting could thrive here.
The Sting made its debut last year, compiling a 13-10-1 record and reaching the playoffs while topping the league in attendance. In the offseason, however, the Sting owners - who also own the minor-league baseball Salt Lake Trappers - put the soccer team up for sale. They said it wasn't a case of the Sting being unprofitable, but rather that changes in the way minor-league baseball was organized would make it difficult to run both operations.
Duckworth said the owners had several offers for the team, but chose to donate the team to the Sting foundation. The foundation arrangement, said Duckworth, "opens the door for large corporations and others to donate to the business."
What the Sting's governing committee hopes for is donations of everything from team transportation to housing for players. They also plan to seek volunteers to work as ticket takers, parking attendants, ushers and in other positions.
Fred Gray, Sting director of soccer operations, said the team plans to invite several players back from last year, and will hold tryouts to fill the rest of the roster. The team's coach from last season, Laurie Calloway, was lured away by the San Francisco Blackhawks when the Sting's ownership situation was up in the air, but team officials hinted that the Sting might be even better coached under new head man Valery Volostnykh.
"The word out on the street is that we made the best pick for a head coach that anybody could have made," Duckworth said.
Volostnykh is a native of the Soviet Union who came to the United States in 1988. A world-class player for many years, he began coaching in 1974 and last year led the APSL's Santa Barbara, Calif., team. He is expected to bring along several of his players from that now-defunct franchise.
Asked about his plans for the Sting, Volostnykh said much of that depends on the players he ends up with. Mindful that the fledgling Sting needs fan support, though, Volostnykh noted that a stadium full of soccer fans would be more important to his team than technical skills or tactics.
The Sting open their season May 4 in San Francisco against Calloway's Blackhawks. The first home game will be May 11 against Albany. The Sting are in the APSL's Western Conference, along with the Colorado Foxes, San Francisco, and defending champion Maryland Bays. The American Conference consists of teams from Miami, Penn-Jersey, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa Bay and Albany. Also on the Sting schedule, in a game that will count in the league standings, is a contest against the defending Canadian Soccer League champions, the Vancouver 86ers.