LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - The Coulee Region isn't known for its soccer, but that could very well change beginning next year.
A new team called Eau Claire Aris FC, part of the National Premier Soccer League, moved to town earlier this summer and is looking to find a permanent home. If the funding is available here, they would like to become a cornerstone of soccer in La Crosse.
It's an opportunity many in La Crosse have long dreamed about - playing competitive soccer for a team close to home.
Now, Viterbo University soccer coach Greg Saliaras is trying to make the dream come true. He moved the club from Eau Claire to La Crosse in May. The team is just finishing its season this weekend.
"The fields that were available to us, they were not meeting the regulations of the league, or they were not always available to us," Saliaras said. "So when this opportunity opened up, we jumped on it."
Because of his role with Viterbo, Saliaras has power in scheduling field time. He also is able to bring many of his own players to the team, including La Crosse native Sam Renstrom, who used to drive eight hours a week just to practice in Eau Claire.
"I couldn't work as much," he said. "I couldn't take summer class or anything because i was having to go up there."
Now he drives across town to experience that competitive play he desires during the college off season.
"It helps rather than not being on a ball or not kicking around at all all summer and having to jump right into the season. This helps to transition to get you ready to play in the fall."
Saliaras has also mixed in a number of international players, like Irelan's Jamie Mairs.
"Definitely makes you a more rounded player," he said. "It's more enjoyable meeting other people."
Mairs played in California last summer, but said he has enjoyed both his time and the competition in the Midwest.
The problem now for Saliaras is funding the team. It costs between $20,000 and $30,000 to run the program, and Saliaras paid for most of that out of his own pocket this year while not charging the players anything.
He's looking for sponsors to help out next season. If they come on board, he thinks the program can reside here permanently.
"Our goal is to hopefully have an under 23 team, like a younger team that plays in some tournaments, that plays in some state competitions," he said. "And then we can have the senior team, which is going to be the older guys, the little bit more seasoned guys."
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