Located 55 miles east of Columbus, Zanesville was the onetime seat of Ohio government and is still known for the rich clay that made it the heart of the state's pottery industry. If soccer coach Josh Stocker has his way, the city also will soon be known for its semi-pro soccer team.
Stocker is the owner and president of the Zanesville Athletic Football Club, a new addition to the 62-team National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). "I'm looking to build a soccer team the community can be proud of and people can come out and watch. If we break even, great. If we make a little money, I'm just going to put it back into the club," says the 30-year-old, who is talking with local businesses about sponsorship opportunities.
Stocker, who has seven years' coaching experience at the collegiate, high school and youth levels, bought the team in December from founder Scott White for an undisclosed sum. White founded the team in early 2012 but didn't have the time to manage it.
After open tryouts March 24 and April 7, Stocker aims to have some of Ohio's best recruits on the field for the May 10 season opener against FC Buffalo. The Zanesville Athletic FC's May 19 home opener will be played in the Maysville athletic complex.
The league provides basic guidance for player recruitment and team administration, but the Stocker has relied heavily on the network that he, general manager Lou Cancasci and the coaching staff (led by Brandon Ponchak) have developed with school and club teams across Ohio.
Though Zanesville players won't get paid, they could get a shot at soccer stardom. In 2012, four NPSL players were drafted by Major League Soccer teams, including one currently in training with the Columbus Crew.
"Having a team in a smaller market like Zanesville is great for the league," says Andy Zorovich, NPSL chairman. The team, part of the Midwest conference, became the league's second Ohio entrant, behind FC Cleveland. Zorovich says the addition will help the league "bring high-level players" to southern Ohio.
The NPSL has a 12-game regular season. Tickets to see the Zanesville Athletic FC sport their black-and-green Nike uniforms are $5. "We've got our sleeves rolled up and we're working hard for that first day," says Stocker. "A lot of things are coming into place."