BY TIM ROHAN
Daily Sports Writer
Published October 28, 2009
When Steve Burns first saw the future of the Michigan men's soccer team, he was with eight or nine of his past players. The coach was at a former player’s wedding when the preliminary drawings of the proposed Michigan soccer stadium were released.
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“They looked at me and shrugged their shoulders like, ‘Yeah, you told us that we were going to have a stadium, too. So I’ll believe it when I see it,’ ” Burns said.
Burns and his players had a right to be skeptical. Ever since the men’s soccer program officially became a varsity sport in 2000, it hasn’t had a home field.
But the new Michigan soccer stadium could make up for lost time. With a capacity of 2,200, it may not be the largest college soccer stadium, but it will meet Michigan's high standards for building a new sports venue.
It took a lot of work for the coach to get the stadium to become a reality, but without Burns, there wouldn’t be a men’s soccer program in the first place.
As a Michigan student, he played on the men’s club soccer team from 1984 to 1988, and then came back to coach it in 1992.
When Burns was earning his Masters in Kinesiology in 1998, he researched how he could convince the Athletic Department to approve men’s soccer as a varsity sport. His work culminated in a 32-page report to persuade Athletic Director Bill Martin to grant the sport varsity status.
Burns started the push for soccer facilities at Michigan, but women’s coach Greg Ryan helped to seal the deal. He was hired in 2008 to turn around a porous program that had gone 20-25-16 the previous three years, including a three-win campaign in 2007.
Ryan took over the program in the spring of 2008 and led Michigan to a 4-10-5 record in a rebuilding year. Like the men’s team, Ryan’s squad hasn’t had quality facilities since its inception in 1994.
With both teams becoming more prominent at the university, the coaches were able to have a say in the construction of a stadium that will make its mark on Michigan soccer.
THE BEST STADIUM IN THE COUNTRY
Executive Associate Athletic Director Dr. Michael Stevenson didn’t hesitate when he was asked why it took so long to get a stadium for the soccer programs.
“Money,” he said bluntly. It was one of the same reasons the men’s program waited so long to become a varsity sport.
The new stadium is part of a project that will cost six million dollars, and is directly funded by the Intercollegiate Athletics resources and gifts fund. With O’Neill Construction of Ann Arbor winning the bid, construction started this week on the current site of the soccer complex.
“I think that we’re bringing the Soccer Complex, including the fields and the stadium, up to the level that you would expect a Michigan team to have,” Stevenson said. “We have been way, way behind the eight-ball with soccer facilities from the day that we added the men’s team. … I think we’re finally getting it to where it needs to be.”
The teams currently play at the three-field U-M Soccer Complex, and the new stadium will be built at the center of the facility.
Next year, both soccer teams will continue to practice on the fields on either side of the middle site. In years past, both teams have fell victim to uncertain practice fields and home games outside of Ann Arbor.
The stadium will add another venue to the unofficial second athletic campus, which has popped up at the end of State Street. The Varsity Tennis center, the future wrestling center and the gymnastics team are also located in the area.
The stadium will be solely used for the soccer teams. To prepare, the Athletic Department consulted both of the Michigan soccer coaches.
“I think Steve and I both agreed that we wanted to have a really intimate setting,” Ryan said. “We didn’t care how large the stadium was, we wanted it to have great atmosphere. And we wanted to have it be consistent with all of the other great Michigan facilities.”
The stadium will have a large grandstand on the west side of the field, and the exterior will be red brick, similar to the baseball and softball fields.