One night, while he was sitting in his room in South Quad Residence Hall, the pain became unbearable for Chris Mwakasisi.
A freshman in the College of Engineering at the time, Mwakasisi needed just one thing: a game of pickup soccer.
“We thought there should be a better way to find and organize games, because we knew we weren’t the only ones wanting to get out of the dorms and play,” Mwakasisi said Saturday at a kickoff event for his new website, projectfreestyle.com, that drew more than 50 students.
That’s why Mwakasisi, now a senior, and his roommate, LSA senior Jeff Lemons, decided to create the Project Freestyle, a social networking website for soccer players and fans looking for pickup soccer games in the Ann Arbor area.
Mwakasisi and Lemons found they weren’t the only ones hungry for soccer. The site, which officially launched in September 2007, has more than 1,000 users – including some in Belgium, Croatia, England and India – and is growing by the day.
Perhaps more interesting, though, is that a site that originated simply to limit the number of boring nights spent in South Quad now seems to have the potential to become a successful business.
Mwakasisi and Lemons developed the idea for the site after seeing soccermatchmaker.com – another social networking site for people interested in finding pickup soccer games.
Mwakasisi and Lemons have since been joined by Engineering senior Aly Juma, LSA senior Brent Medema and Ross School of Business senior Michael Parke on the project. Together, these five have worked to reach a larger base than originally intended.
Parke, a co-captain from last season’s varsity soccer team, has been discussed the site’s potential with Michigan men’s soccer coach Steve Burns, who has coached the team since it received varsity status in 2000.
Burns has suggested ways to make the site more appealing to soccer coaches at the collegiate level by adding tools that would help coaches recruit players who use the site.
Parke said Burns’s recommendations will make the site more attractive to collegiate coaches. About a quarter to a third of the site’s users have soccer “résumés” that they use to post their playing schedules, which are visible to coaches. Coaches can then attend games or access the contact information of players they might be interested in recruiting.
Parke said the site might not be as appeal to coaches with competitive programs like Michigan because those coaches already have deeply entrenched recruiting methods.
“It’s different for Michigan recruiting,” Parke said. “They have the funding to call and visit recruits by going to all these tournaments.”
Burns said he would pay attention to a site like Project Freestyle, though, because it would be a new way to recruit talented players.
“With recruiting, there are so many different ways to skin a cat,” Burns said. “It’s changing all the time. I’m not going to just look past this and say that because we have a budget and can go out and look at recruits ourselves that a website like this couldn’t assist or help us.”
Burns said he thought the site would be more helpful to smaller schools operating with little administrative support or funding.
Members of the group are also reaching out to the club and intramural sports community.
Medema, who served as captain of last year’s club soccer team, said convinced his teammates, as well as members of Purdue University’s club soccer team, to use the site.
The site allows users to track their statistics throughout a season. That seems like a simple tool, but means a lot to many club teams, which usually don’t keep statistics, Medema said.
“Before we used the site, when we played other club teams, we had no way to even scout the other team,” Medema said. “It’s difficult to know who the best player on a team is when there aren’t stats available.”
Medema said he’s scheduled to meet with officials from the University’s Recreational Sports department Friday to convince them to implement the scheduling aspect of the site into intramural sports. If the intramural sports teams join the site, Medema said, players on the teams would receive automatic e-mails and text messages notifying them of when and where games are being held.
So far, the members of the group have only spent their free time on the project. Mwakasisi said he used his own multimedia background to design the site himself.
The group hasn’t reached out to any advertisers yet. Parke said the group is waiting to do that until it has more users.
All five members of the group have are staying in Ann Arbor after the school year to help get the website off the ground and make it profitable.
“It wouldn’t make sense for us to go leave now that we’ve done all this,” Mwakasisi said. “We’re all really dedicated to making this work.”