With soccer in the United States on a rapid rise, especially in Orlando with Orlando City's recent expansion into Major League Soccer, UCF men's soccer head coach Bill Cunningham wants to capture some of its magic.
He plans to spearhead the program into a new direction during the upcoming season by creating a supporters group specific to UCF.
Last month, the UCF men's soccer team announced it will be working with The Ruckus and Iron Lion Firm, Orlando City Soccer Club's two recognized supporters groups, to form a group focused specifically on UCF soccer.
The motive would be to create an Orlando City-like atmosphere at UCF soccer games.
"What we're looking for from the supporters is that constant energy, singing, flag waving and making sure it's an intimidating, positive environment when we are playing at home," Cunningham said. "It's about making a fun environment and being a part of the game, not just watching the game."
The proposed supporters group has yet to land on a name and will take to social media to decide through a contest. The Black and Gold Brigade, Iron Knights and Knights Watch have all been considered.
The group will have its first official gathering on July 9. The location has not been announced.
Iron Lion Firm member and UCF alumnus Chuck Tolman will be the direct figure operating the soon-to-be named group. He will serve as the president and envisions the group reaching 100 paid members.
"We're trying to bring past students from Orlando City to UCF," Tolman said. "We're trying to change the campus by singing songs and waving flags. We're not trying to sell just soccer but sell UCF, and we want people to come out for UCF soccer."
The supporters' culture at college soccer games is not a new thing for some spectators.
The University of Connecticut's soccer team has a well-known group called The Goal Patrol, which consists of roughly 250 former and current UConn students.
Orlando City rookie forward Cyle Larin, who played with the Huskies last year, said that having a fan club at games brings a different feel to the experience.
"It's kind of like playing professionally in college," Larin said. "They gave chance for me, and they gave chance for everybody that played. It's a great way for a player and a fan to connect, especially for a player to build confidence."
Cunningham, who has coached the UCF soccer team for 10 years, believes that establishing a supporters group will enhance the game day experience and, in turn, increase attendance.
Although UCF soccer games are free for current students, Cunningham said membership to the supporters group would be $20. The fee would include a T-shirt, scarf and UCF athletics-sponsored catering for select games.
He said former and non-UCF students would pay $50 for the same perks, but theirs would include season tickets. Also, a bus may be chartered to the University of South Florida.
"We're trying to drive our attendance, and I think having a supporters group is the way to go," Cunningham said. "The sport is universal and it's for everybody, not just one type of person."
Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath is no stranger to supporters groups and stressed how important a 12th man figure in the stands can be to the players on the field.
"I support everything here, anything that adds to the occasion," Heath said. "It's fantastic. It's important for the college player because that's as good as anything. We have a good relationship with UCF, and I'm delighted that the college soccer fan can go out to a game and absorb a positive vibe to a soccer game."
Mike Gramajo is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at email@example.com