Women’s football | From Amish heartland, FC Indiana builds ‘multicultural vision’

Lafayette, Indiana | FC Indiana in four years has become a force in women’s club soccer in the United States, winning two Women’s Premier Soccer League titles and one U.S. Open Cup. But despite origins within a Midwest Amish agricultural enclave, its influence extends worldwide, illustrated by its high standing, currently third, in one global ranking and frequent links with high-profile international players such as Women’s World Cup stars Marta and Cristiane of Brazil, Cynthia Uwak of Nigeria and Inka Grings of Germany.

Some of FC Indiana’s multicultural talent—now headed for the W-League playoffs starting Jul 25—gathers for a 2008 preseason photo opportunity: top row, left to right, Ria Percival (NZL), Veronica Phewa (RSA), Christie Shaner (USA), Fatima Leyva (MEX), Kristin Luckenbill (USA), Kelly Parker (CAN), Laura Del Rio (ESP); bottom row, left to right: Lena Mosebo (RSA), Aivi Luik (AUS), Julianne Sitch (USA). (Photo courtesy PDA | FC Indiana)

The story of this juggernaut begins in the north central Indiana town of Goshen (pop. 30,000), where horse-drawn buggies vie with sport-utility vehicles for right of way. Goshen lies at the center of Indiana’s Amish and Mennonite communities, Anabaptist Christian denominations with roots in 16th-century Europe. Some congregations shun modernity, avoiding electricity and telephones in the home, and use horses for farming and transportation.

Against this placid background, FC Indiana in Jun 04 played its first game, a 1–0 defeat of an Australian national team then preparing for the Olympic Games in Greece. In 2005, FC Indiana joined the WPSL, won the league championship and added the domestic cup. What has always differentiated FC Indiana is its ability to attract talented players, many from overseas. Coach Shek Borkowski had played soccer at the University of Akron, for the Canton Invaders of the American Indoor Soccer Association, as well as in the second division in his native Poland. Borkowski says that he and his coaches want players who buy into the club’s vision, regardless of nationality:

When you are evaluating you have to get players who represent the values of the club. At FC Indiana we have a multicultural vision. I like the commitment of the U.S. game, the pace and speed, but, coming from Europe, I like to add some technical values. What is good in soccer is that you don’t need to share the same language. A Russian, a German or a Mexican can play with an American if they both have the same vision. I think that our success stems from our environment in which we successfully fuse different soccer cultures and strengths.

Aivi Luik, Lena Mosabo, Ria Percival, Veronica Phewa and Fatima Leyva speak in FC Indiana offices before the 2008 season. “Here we just get the ball, go forward—quick,” says Mosabo. “That’s the difference from South Africa.” (9:03; © 2008 FC Indiana)

That philosophy also extends to Borkowski’s staff, which includes coaches from the United States, Mexico, Ecuador, Serbia and Bulgaria. In 2005, FC Indiana mixed internationals Paty Perez and Fatima Leyva of Mexico and Tasha St. Louis and Leslie Ann James of Trinidad and Tobago with American college players from the University of Kansas and Notre Dame. The side also brought in ex-WUSA defenders Julie and Nancy Augustyniak, who chose FC Indiana over Swedish and German clubs they had played for the previous year while waiting for the defunct WUSA to re-form.

In 2006, FC Indiana’s reliance on American college players created a problem. The club missed the playoffs. Management realized it had to chart a different direction to continue to be competitive. The college students frequently had other commitments (camps, classes, trips, etc.) that kept them away from games.

Goshen, too, was a problem. “Not one good American player is going to Goshen when she can go to San Diego, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver or Tampa,” says general manager Anton Maksimov. “When you are a 20-year-old woman, would you rather go to Goshen, Indiana … or Boston?”

Former Notre Dame defender and Pennsylvania native Christie Shaner says, “Not many people know of Goshen. I didn’t myself until I played there.” The club’s selling point has always been its superior coaching and emphasis on player development. Players practice twice a day; some WPSL and W-League teams practice twice a week. FC Indiana decided to pursue players who had already graduated from college, focusing on international players who didn’t care about Goshen’s rural setting.

FC Indiana’s Diaspora Dozen

Name Position Previous club Int’l caps Int’l goals
Laura Del Rio (ESP) F Levante 35 40
Annie Hamel (CAN) F Ottawa Fury - -
Anna Laue (GER) F/MF Gütersloh 2000 - -
Fatima Leyva (MEX) MF FC Indiana 82 6
Aivi Luik (AUS) D/MF FC Indiana - -
Lena Mosebo (RSA) MF Tuks HPC 50 2
Marie-Eve Nault (CAN) D Ottawa Fury 8 0
Monica Ocampo (MEX) D FC Indiana 25 11
Kelly Parker (CAN) MF Ottawa Fury 1 0
Ria Percival (NZL) MF Lynn Avon Utd - -
Veronica Phewa (RSA) F Durban Ladies 86 66
Maria Ruiz (ESP) F FC Indiana - -

“They don’t come for the entertainment or anything,” says Maksimov. “They want to come to play soccer.” Maksimov feels that the internationals bring a different soccer mentality:

The American girls enjoy playing for fun. Other places in the world, the culture is different. They live soccer, they watch soccer, read about it, it’s everywhere. Here it’s not that way. They [American players] do their own thing—watch American Idol or things like that. They don’t have that soccer culture.

The club’s extensive global scouting network is the envy of other organizations. Borkowski and Maksimov scouted the 2006 U-20 World Championships in Russia and have developed links with clubs in Russia, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico and Nigeria. Borkowski says, “It is crucial that we keep identifying top young players to come to FC Indiana and not just from overseas. There are many people at FC Indiana who work with these young women, identifying them and bringing them to the club. I’m very proud of our youth identification at the moment.”

Ambitions within the club’s top tier are lofty enough that, before the 2007 season, FC Indiana held talks with Marta Vieira da Silva of Umeå IK through her agent, Fabiano Farah. “She decided to stay in Sweden,” Borkowski wrote by e-mail in Dec 06.

Borkowski places a priority on players with ambition and who are committed to improving their game. “We can only help someone who wants to achieve something. All we can do is give them a method to help them achieve that. That’s the real part of coaching. We try to be very selective when looking for players and afterward make the players conscious of what we want to achieve. … Long-term success comes from continuity of coaching, tactical approach, stability and shared vision.”

FC Indiana’s undefeated run against touring national teams from Australia, New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago and U-20 sides from Canada and Mexico also has attracted attention from top-class players.

In 2007, the team brought back Australia native and University of Nevada–Reno graduate Aivi Luik, Leyva and Shaner to play with new imports Monica Ocampo of Mexico, Elisabetta Tona of Italy, Maria Ruiz of Spain and Elena Danilova and Elena Terekhova of Russia’s U-20 team. Along with a late signing at goalkeeper—U.S. international Kristin Luckenbill, who won a WUSA title in 2002 with Carolina Courage and an Olympic gold medal in 2004—the Lionesses captured their second WPSL crown, 3–0, over New England Mutiny. A few weeks later they again reached the U.S. Open Cup final but lost to California-based Ajax America, 1–2.

In 2002, Elkhart County officials dedicated a nearly half-mile-long gravel road so horse-drawn buggies could access the Goshen Wal-Mart without contending with motorway traffic (John W. Fountain, “Amish Find Gentler Road along Busy Highway,” New York Times, 22 Nov 02).

Following the ’07 season, FC Indiana made a number of important changes, moving from Goshen to Lafayette after acquiring a 60,000-square-foot indoor training facility and switching its home ground to Kuntz Memorial Stadium in Indianapolis. The team joined the W-League, accepting a limit on signees outside North America following a period of no limits with the WPSL. (Anna Laue and Ria Percival presently do not count against the roster cap of seven non–North Americans, given their eligibility for training and cup matches only.)

Competition for spots ahead of the 2008 season was intense. Current Mexican national-team forward Tanya Morales, for example, could not secure a position.

FC Indiana’s owners are Gary and Dale Weaver, who until 2007 operated a Goshen-based manufacturing center for trash-bin liners, which generated some $3 billion in annual turnover. They have also invested in the Chicago franchise of the new Women’s Professional Soccer league, set to launch in seven U.S. cities in Apr 09. Indiana maintains a technical alliance with Chicago and will continue to develop players for possible transfer.

The club operates an academy and fields a team in the men’s Premier Arena Soccer Leagues, which plays in a small-sided, fútbol rapido format. The W-League team offers supreme entertainment value: $49 ($11 youth) for a season pass to all Indianapolis and West Lafayette matches, including an invitation to a “meet the team” soiree at Hookah!, a Middle Eastern–themed restaurant near Purdue University.

The WPS is in the players’ sights, and they feel FC Indiana can help get them there.

Percival, an 18-year-old winger, joined the team fresh from New Zealand’s appearance at the 2007 Women’s World Cup. Most players her age would focus on gaining a scholarship to an American university, but Percival says that if she returns to school it will be in New Zealand. Her goal is to join WPS and to “see where it takes me.”

Her veteran teammate Luik, in her fourth season with the club, counts her blessings that a planned transfer to a Florida club in 2006 did not work out:

Good thing it bombed. I was kind of bored and wanted a change. I am so glad I didn’t end up going there. I think [FCI] is the best team in the country, club-wise. Not only that but they treat me so good every year. There is not too much to do in Lafayette, but it’s really not where you are, it’s who you’re with.

FC Indiana marketers, on the club website, engage in some cheeky gender marking.

FC Indiana bills itself, before the WPS launch, as the only fully professional women’s club side in North America. Although the season lasts just over two months and generates tiny home gates—attendance for Indiana’s home regular-season finale on Jul 17 was 325—the club reimburses players for expenses and provides lodging as well as a small monthly stipend. In Goshen, the players lived in a Ramada Inn; in Lafayette, they have apartments.

Club organizers pay attention to cultural differences. Veteran players help the newcomers adjust to the team and to the United States. The team schedules social events such as movies and dinners to help everyone appreciate each other’s uniqueness. FC Indiana provides English-language classes but, at practices and games, coaches or players translate tactical instructions.

“We’ve had unbelievable talent. I’ve learned a lot from the internationals,” Shaner says. “Hopefully they’ve learned a little from the Americans about our style of play.”

So far in 2008, to say that FC Indiana has gelled would be an understatement. Its regular season complete as of Jul 17, the club, with 40 points from 14 matches, having scored 67 goals and allowed three, finished in first place in the W-League’s Midwest Division. Playoffs begin Jul 25; FC Indiana must survive two Central Conference opponents before reaching the league’s North American semifinals Aug 1 in Virginia Beach.

Off-season restructuring no doubt will be required when the side loses many of its most talented players to the relaunched professional league. “The idea is for us to find undervalued assets in an inefficient market,” Borkowski tells the FC Indiana website. He also alludes, cryptically, to a forthcoming venture to survey young talent in Chile.

About the author

Tim Grainey is a regular contributor to World Football Pages in Canada and does additional freelance writing on women’s soccer. He is writing a book, Beyond “Bend It Like Beckham”: Women’s Soccer as a Global Phenomenon. Grainey can be reached at Tgrainey@gmail.com.

About the Author

Tim Grainey is a regular contributor to World Football Pages in Canada and has written previously for the Global Game on women's soccer in Portugal (1 Nov 08) and FC Indiana (18 Jul 08). He is writing a book, Beyond "Bend It Like Beckham": Women's Soccer as a Global Phenomenon. Grainey can be reached at Srigrainey@cox.net.

Comments (8)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. [...] FC Indiana give global vision to women’s game in the Midwest –great stuff from the Global Game about the Chicago Red Stars affiliate, whose scouting network puts most MLS clubs to shame. [...]

  2. [...] The Global Game has a great article on FC Indiana. Writer Tim Grainey really focuses on the club’s ability to sign and keep top [...]

  3. [...] our men may be womanly but our women kick-ass on the soccer field (except none of them are actually Mennonite but doesn’t matter because [...]

  4. It’s good to know that female Mexican soccer players are finding a place to play football at a high level. Here in Mexico there’s not a first-division female league, even when there are a lot of excellent female Mexican soccer players.

    Go Paty Perez and Fatima Leyva! Best wishes!

  5. [...] appointed coach of the St. Louis franchise. Previously, Marta had been linked to FC Indiana (see 18 Jul 08) and to LA Galaxy of Major League Soccer, although the source of latter rumors, in fall 07, is [...]

  6. [...] to World Football Pages in Canada and has written previously for the Global Game on FC Indiana (18 Jul 08). He is writing a book, Beyond “Bend It Like Beckham”: Women’s Soccer as a Global [...]

  7. chava ruiz says:

    I would like to see more videos of Monica Ocampo. You guys always show videos of only one or two girls and that’s not fair. I’m a big fan of Monica’s, and I will appreciate if you make my dream reality. Thank you.

  8. Thanks very much for the comment. I, too, would wish for more videos of all women players, both in the United States and abroad. Unfortunately, the offerings are limited. Men’s football predominates on the Internet and in all mainstream media. We seek to give the women equal, if not the majority of, coverage … but it is difficult to find videos online. If we had resources and access to a crew of videographers, we would post interviews and video snippets of women players, wherever they are. Consider this a call for submissions.

Leave a Reply

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.