Indy Eleven coach: Team, game 'bigger than one community'

August 1, 2013
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Indiana University soccer standout Juergen Sommer traveled the globe as a professional athlete before hanging up his cleats more than a decade ago and “retiring” to Carmel with his wife and young sons.

He put his economics degree to use in the corporate world, selling medical devices and commercial real estate before returning to pro sports this summer.

juergen sommer mugSommer

Now the 44-year-old is helping to build Indianapolis’ newest team as head coach and director of soccer operations at Indy Eleven, which opens play in the North American Soccer League next spring.

“We got to the point that we wanted to find a home,” he said of the 2002 decision to settle in Carmel, close to his wife’s hometown of Greenwood.

Born in New York City and raised in Naples, Fla., by German immigrants who ran a deli, a teenaged Sommer attended summer camp at Culver Academies in northern Indiana, then returned for high school.

He joined the IU soccer team as a walk-on and ended up the starting goalkeeper on its 1988 national championship team. He represented the United States on two World Cup teams and played in England and Italy before returning to play Major League Soccer stateside.

Sommer maintained his connections to the sport after retiring, serving on the U.S. Soccer Federation’s Athletes Council and the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s board of directors. He cut his coaching teeth at the Carmel Dad’s Club and sharpened them during stints as an assistant at IU and goalkeeper coach for the U.S. Men’s National Team.

So when team leaders kicked off their search for Indy Eleven’s first coach, they didn’t have to look far to find their man. (Of course, that didn’t stop resumes from pouring in from around the world.)

President and General Manager Peter Wilt said Sommer was the team’s first choice, in part because of his Indiana connections.

“Juergen’s knowledge, leadership, experience, connections and vision all are superb and in line with the qualities needed to make Indy Eleven successful,” he said in a June statement.

His local network already has delivered. When two Haitian players expressed interest in coming to recent team tryouts, for example, Sommer contacted a neighbor who does missionary work in Haiti for help finding a host family to make them feel welcome.

“It’s a good way to keep them grounded and educate them about our city and our culture,” Sommer said, drawing on his experience living overseas. “I didn’t have to ask twice. The support is there.”

Case in point: this week’s soccer extravaganza at Lucas Oil Stadium, which is expected to attract more than 40,000 fans for a match between two powerhouse international teams.

Indy Eleven won’t start playing until April, after Sommer and his coaching team assembles a roster. They’re hosted two rounds of tryouts so far—the most recent just last week.

Although the team is expected to play in downtown Indianapolis, Sommer said leaders are considering Hamilton County among the possible sites for a practice facility.

Despite its Indy-centric name, Sommer expects Indy Eleven to draw fans—and players and, yes, staff—from throughout central and beyond.

“The game and the team are bigger than one community,” he said.

Sommer and his wife, Susie Prall, have two sons. Tommy, 14, plays travel baseball for the Indiana Bulls. Noah, 11, is active in Westfield Youth Soccer.
 
“We’ve traveled all over the world,” Sommer said. “It’s good to be home.”

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