April 13, 2012
By Dan Shalin
Chicago, IL - Like all successful executives, Chicago Inferno president Todd Short has his short-term and long-term objectives.
Since September, Short has been working tirelessly to ready the club for its first season in the prestigious Premier Development League (PDL), the country’s top amateur outfit, which begins play in late May.
Short has hired a head coach, overseen player recruitment, signed up sponsors, found venues for games and practices, entered into charitable partnerships and promoted the team to prospective ticket buyers.
“I think it’s gone as well as possible for a first-year team,” said Short, who gained experience as a PDL executive last season when he headed up the Inferno’s Great Lakes Division rival Chicago Fire Premier. “I have a ‘To Do’ list of 200 items. Having done it last year (with the Fire), I feel I have a good base. You have to take it item by item or it can be overwhelming.”
Through all the planning, Short said he has been mindful of the club’s future. Though he’s looking to present the best possible product on and off the field this season, he is committed to building slowly in order to make the club sustainable and allow it room to grow.
“People are passionate about the game and have ideas about what a club should be. But the key thing (for me as the club’s president) is to look into that crystal ball and come up with ways to be successful over time,” Short said. “We’re a new PDL team and I want to do things we can sustain and build upon. We always want to move forward, not backward."
Short continued: “If we travel in 15-passenger vans the first year, I want to build, so we can travel on a 56-passenger bus in year two. That’s just one example of starting smaller and growing. We don’t want to make decisions, realize it was a wrong step and too costly and then move backward. Our motto is ‘No false starts.’”
One of Short’s first steps last fall was to hire Branko Savic as the team manager. Savic was the player/coach of the 2010 USL-indoor-league champion Chicago Storm, a one-time professional player in his native Serbia and an NAIA All-American at Lindenwood University.
Savic and Short have spent the last several months building a roster, some of the players chosen from the team’s three tryout camps, which have attracted over 150 hopefuls.
As promised, the Inferno’s first squad features collegiate and post high school players, many with ties to the Chicagoland area, and a smattering of former professionals, expected to add veteran savvy and leadership.
Lincolnshire, IL-native Gordon Gurson (Robert Morris University) was the team’s first signing straight off his 18-goal sophomore season in which he was named the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year. Another one of the many intriguing prospects on the roster is Aurora-native Alberto Lopez, who was the 2009 winner of Sueño Major League Soccer, a national soccer skills competition.
The roster also includes 37-year-old Serbian defender Vladimir Knezevic, who played professionally for the Chicago Storm. The team also has reportedly been in discussions to sign Jay Lee Harris, 29-year-old English player who has suited up for multiple English Football League clubs and played in both Scandinavia and Asia.
With a roster featuring players from several countries and soccer cultures, Savic said he looks forward to blending the various styles into a cohesive unit.
“When you look at our team, we pretty much have the ethnic picture of Chicago as a city,” Savic said. “We have Hispanic guys, European, American. We have to put that together and create a group that can think and breathe together as a team.”
Preseason training begins in late April, though current college players will report at various times later in the spring. The club is scheduled to open up the 16-game regular season on May 19 at the Michigan Bucks.
The Inferno will train at Schaumburg’s Olympic Park and play its home games at Wheaton College’s 2,000-seat Joe Bean Stadium, a soccer-specific facility. The regular-season home opener versus River City Rovers currently is scheduled for 7 p.m. on May 25.
Whether playing in their home navy shirts or their road reds, the Inferno’s jerseys will be adorned with the name Kick Energy Drink, the team’s Presenting Sponsor.
Kick, produced by Global Brands Ltd in the United Kingdom and distributed in the U.S. by Dolce Beverage Group LLC of Streamwood, IL, is a growing brand in the energy drink sector. The Kick Energy Drink promotional vehicles and the Kick Girls also will appear at Inferno home games.
Another important Inferno partnership is with Urban Initiatives, a non-profit organization that runs a health and education soccer program for children, many of them underprivileged, in the Chicago Public Schools.
At 3:30 p.m. on May 4, at Chicago’s North Avenue Beach Turf Field, Inferno players will hold a clinic for kids from Urban Initiatives, after which the Inferno will face the kids in an 11 versus 100 soccer game.
“That event is not really about marketing, I just love what Urban Initiatives is doing,” said Short, who often talks about the Inferno’s commitment to community involvement.
The 11 versus 100 game will not be the club’s last child-focused event over the summer. The Inferno also will run two youth soccer camps: from July 16-20 and then from July 23-27, both at Schaumburg’s Olympic Park. The camps are open to boys and girls ages 7-13, who will receive instruction from Savic and several Inferno players.