As the UCF Knights’ soccer seasons kick off, a new potential post-UCF path for team alumni has presented itself.
Last week, the Central Florida Crusaders, a new expansion team in the National Indoor Soccer League (NISL), was introduced by co-owner Andrew Haines in the lobby of their home arena, Addition Financial Arena.
The Crusaders, who will have both a men’s and a women’s team, will debut in the now six-team league in its upcoming season in December.
“I think if you look at the talent level that’s throughout Central Florida, and the growth of our league, it’s a natural fit for us,” Haines said.
Some of that talent comes in the form of former collegiate players. For example, the Crusaders’ sister expansion team, the Tampa Bay Strikers, who will play on USF’s campus in the Yuengling Center, signed its first player to its women’s team in USF alum and Bradenton native Bri Blethen on Friday.
“I gave the directive to look for local and regionalized talent,” Haines said. “Obviously, playing here, if we can sign some players from the university when they’re done playing, that’s a great fit, right?”
Men’s and women’s team head coach Tom Traxler confirmed after his introduction that the team intends on scouting the Knights men’s and women’s soccer teams for talent.
“We’re certainly going to sit and talk with Scott [Calabrese] and Tiffany [Roberts Sahaydak] and see who’s graduating and see what players want to remain in central Florida and would like to continue their soccer career in a little bit of a different way,” Traxler said.
Some of the players on the field are not the only aspect that UCF fans may find familiar about the Crusaders. The team’s logo, a downward-facing sword with a shield behind it, and colors harken to those of the college campus that hosts the team.
“We looked at that in some of the markets and we were like, ‘You know what? We want this to feel like it’s our arena too,’” Haines said. “So now, having the colors and the seats and just the feel, when people come in, this is the Crusaders’ arena.”
Fans will get to experience the Crusaders’ 10 home dates from December to April, with most of the season aligning with the UCF Basketball season. Both men’s and women’s teams playing back-to-back on the same day, with every ticket bought admitting a fan to both games.
“Indoor soccer is fast, it’s fun, it’s feverish, and all I need you to do is come once,” Haines said. “If I can get you in here once, you’re going to come back again.”
Watch the team’s introductory press conference below, featuring co-owner Andrew Haines, head coach Tom Traxler, and team president Mary Ellen Rogers: