The United Soccer League’s new third-division league is working to bring the professional game to new markets across the United States, and University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) Men’s Soccer Head Coach Chris Kranjc is thrilled to see more opportunities for players and cities.
A Nebraska native, Kranjc played college ball at Bellevue University before joining the coaching ranks. In 17 years, Kranjc built Hastings College into an NAIA powerhouse, amassing a 297-67-21 overall record while also winning the 2010 NAIA National Championship – the same year he was named NAIA/NSCAA National Coach of the Year.
Wanting a new challenge and fresh start, Kranjc was officially named the Head Coach of UAH in February of 2016. While Kranjc may still be new to the city, he has not noticed a change in the support for the game he loves and thinks that a professional team in Huntsville would be backed by the community.
“I think the support in Omaha is very much like it is here,” Kranjc told USLD3.com. “There would be great support. You have two very big soccer clubs in the city with United Soccer Club and Huntsville Futbol Club, as well as a lot of other good clubs in town.
“If there’s a professional team here in Huntsville, people are going to want to see them play.”
On Wednesday, the USL’s DIII expansion team will visit Huntsville before making its way to Montgomery on Thursday and Mobile on Friday. The third-division league has already visited 15 different cities to date and been in expansion discussions with more than 50 markets across the nation.
Kranjc has been impressed with how far the sport has come since his playing days, noting the numerous options available to high-level players in the States today compared to those in years past. That is especially true in the Southeast, he says, as recent USL expansion into cities such as Nashville and Birmingham is giving players and fans in the region access to top-level soccer right in their backyard.
“I think it comes down to opportunities for these players because there are so many college players and players out there that maybe not all the time get those opportunities, and this [USL DIII] just provides another avenue but also provides more development for the game in our country,” Kranjc said.
“Now that we have the USL teams and the players that are playing within it – I went to an Orlando City B vs. Saint Louis, and the quality of that was great. You look at Cincy and the crowds they are getting and now Nashville coming into the mix. Now that you are adding in another layer, you are only developing the game, developing more professionals, developing these clubs. It will help grow the game in the States and get more people excited about the game in their community.”
Increasing excitement about the game, uniting those fans with a professional experience and providing opportunities for talented players across the nation is what Kranjc belives the USL’s DIII can provide. And, according to the Head Coach, it’s about time.
“When you look at other countries across the world, they have these leagues in place,” he said. “I had a player out of Hastings College play in Division III in Germany. He was able to prolong his career and have the opportunity to get promoted at one point and even had an opportunity to play in the league’s cup – with that opportunity he got to play against Frieburg, which was in the Bundesliga. So that gave him a chance to potentially find his way onto a first-team roster.”
And those are the opportunities Kranjc is eager to see more of in the U.S., as the USL’s DIII prepares to kick off in 2019.