MADISON, Wisc. — Forward Madison FC has added a pair of attacking pieces to its inaugural squad with the signings of forwards J.C. Banks, who becomes the team’s first-ever Wisconsinite, and Zaire Bartley for the 2019 USL League One season. The signings are pending league and federation approval.
Banks went to high school in Milwaukee, played college soccer at UW-Green Bay and competed for the Madison 56ers at Breese Stevens Field before embarking on a professional career that has lasted eight years, including stints with the Rochester Rhinos, Minnesota United FC and Jacksonville Armada FC.
According to the 29-year-old Banks, it’s a dream come true to be playing professionally in his home state.
“When I heard that there was going to be a team, I wanted to be a part of it and come back to Wisconsin,” Banks said. “It feels really good to be here. It feels like home to me.”
Banks comes from a family rooted in Wisconsin soccer history. His father, Milwaukee native Jimmy, featured in the 1990 World Cup for the United States and played for the indoor Milwaukee Wave under current Forward Madison Managing Director Peter Wilt.
“I remember when J.C. was born - I was working with the Milwaukee Wave and Jimmy was in his second year with us,” Wilt said. “One of my fondest Milwaukee Wave memories was working with J.C.’s dad to launch the Jimmy Banks Inner City Soccer League. Having his son return to Wisconsin to play professionally feels like the completion of a circle.”
The 20-year-old Bartley arrives in Madison having previously competed for the New York Red Bulls II in the USL Championship. A native of The Bronx in New York City, Bartley has already developed an impressive resume despite a brief pro career, including playing for Jamaican youth national teams and for a team in the Czech Republic.
According to Forward Head Coach Daryl Shore, Bartley will play across the forward line for Madison.
“Zaire can play as a winger or as a center forward,” Shore said. “Even though he is only 20, Zaire's upside is very big. He came to us highly recommended from Damani Ralph (former MLS Rookie of the Year) and he’s already had professional experience.”
Bartley will take cues from his longtime friend Don Smart, FMFC’s first-ever signing. Like Smart, Bartley grew up in New York with a Jamaican family. He’s eligible for Jamaica’s national team through his parents and has played for its U-17 team.
“Don gave me a call and he convinced me to come to Madison,” Bartley said. “It’s great knowing that I have somebody there in my corner.”