By Jimmy Carlton Sportswriter Published Aug 03, 2016 at 6:01 PM

The top nonprofessional soccer teams in the country are converging on Milwaukee this weekend for the United States Adult Soccer Association Amateur Cup National Finals at the Bavarian Soccer Complex, where the hosts hope to lift the trophy for the seventh time in their long and storied history.

While the Bavarians are no longer the entirely, authentically and unapologetically German club they were for the first 60 or so years of their existence – largely due to immigration shifts in the area and attitude changes within the community that have integrated and effectively eliminated ethnically exclusive squads – they remain one of America’s most successful amateur soccer teams. Almost incontrovertibly, they have been the best in Wisconsin for decades.

In their 87-year history, the Bavarians have won six national championships, including five Amateur Cups, becoming the state’s most accomplished club. And, after winning a bid to host the 2016 USASA Amateur Cup, helped by their excellent facilities and 2,000-seat stadium with field turf, the Bavarians are hoping to add more hardware to the trophy case this weekend.

From Aug. 5-6, Bavarian’s Heartland Value Fund Stadium, 700 W. Lexington Boulevard in Glendale, will be the home of the national Amateur Cup Finals. On Friday night, Region IV champion Moreno Valley FC (California) faces Christos FC (Baltimore), the Region I champ, in the first semifinal matchup at 5:30 p.m. Afterward, Region II champion Bavarian S.C. plays Legends FC (Dallas), the Region III champ, under the lights at 8 p.m. The winners of those two matches will then meet in the final at 8 p.m. on Saturday night.

The Bavarians are coming into the Amateur Cup on a bit of a run. They won the Wisconsin Soccer League major division regular-season title – with a 12-1-1 record and 62 goals scored to just 11 allowed – and then took the WSL tournament championship, 3-1, over Croatians. The men’s team also won the Amateur Cup State title, beating North Shore United, 5-1. And last weekend, the club claimed the Premier League of America championship in Toledo, Ohio, by defeating RWB Adria (Chicago), 4-2, in the final.

Call it good form.

Who to watch

The Bavarians’ starting lineup – indeed, even its active roster – varies, depending on the competition. This weekend, some of the standout players to keep an eye on are forward Braden Andryk, a junior at Milwaukee School of Engineering and an NSCAA All American, and his older brother Logan, a former MSOE midfielder who was the Division III National Player of the Year last season. The veteran playmakers include UW-Milwaukee star Tighe Dombrowski, who was drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes and played professionally with the Minnesota Thunder and IK Sirius (Sweden), and Scott Lorenz, a University of Wisconsin product whose pro career included stints with Sporting Kansas City and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

The team is loaded with local talent. Other former Milwaukee Panthers include Dorian O’Lochlayne, Patrick Ruhland, Luke Davey, Andre Francois, Greg Rosenthal, Luke Goodnetter, Kyle Zenoni and Robbie Boyd. There are ex-Marquette players like John Mau, Dennis Holowaty, Kelmend Islami, Jake Taylor, Adam Hermsen, as well as current Golden Eagles Danny Jarosz and Connor Alba.

During the PLA season, Braden Andryk led the Bavarians in scoring with 13 points, followed by Lorenz with 12 and Islami with nine.

The Bavarians are coached by Patrick Hodgins, who joined the club in 2012 from Croatians and is the programs administrator for the Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association.

Club history

Founded in Milwaukee’s Lake Park by immigrants from the German province of Bavaria on July 29, 1929, Fussball Club Bayern – the original name – initially comprised several different recreational groups, including those for dance, card-playing, fitness and soccer. The club also supported sports for both men and women in bowling, fistball, tennis and swimming. Unsurprisingly, it was soccer that stuck around.

In 1956, after changing its name to Bavarian Soccer Club, a new field site and facilities were purchased at the present location, allowing the club to concentrate on its primary sport. The move paid off.

During the 1960s, the men’s major division team won seven straight Wisconsin league championships; in 1976, led by Bob Gansler, who played on and later coached the U.S. men’s national team, Bavarians won their first Amateur Cup. And though they reached the finals four more times – in 1983, 1994, 1999 and 2000 – it wasn’t until 2001 that the club captured its second national title.

That began an impressive three-year run wherein the Bavarians repeated in 2002 and, in 2003, won both the National Amateur Cup again and the National Open Cup, held at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee. In 2009, the team was again America’s amateur champion.

Outside of the Wisconsin major division, the Bavarians competed in the National Premier Soccer League – in which the Milwaukee Torrent now play – from 2005 through 2014, then the Great Lakes Premier League and, this season, in the PLA for the first time.  

While the men’s major division team has won at least 30 league championships, the club has developed and expanded its youth program over the past 50 years. Bavarian boys teams currently compete at the highest state and regional levels, with some playing in national championships and many turning out college players. In 2011, the club introduced a fully developed and staffed girls division; now, Bavarian has a girls team at every age level, with those squads making up about one-third of its youth program.

OnMilwaukee recently sat down with Tom Zaiss, Bavarian’s director of operations, program director and a staff coach who assists with the men’s team, to discuss the evolution from an all-German ethnic squad to a fully American soccer club, including the cultural changes over the years, as well as expectations for this weekend’s Amateur Cup and the possibility of a Bavarian vs. Torrent match one day.

OnMilwaukee: Up until the last 20 or so years, ethnic clubs really ruled the soccer scene in Milwaukee. There were German teams like Bavarians, Brewers and Sport Club, the Croatian Eagles, United Serbian S.C., Polonia, Club Latino and others. How has that local soccer landscape changed recently?

Zaiss: The soccer club has gone full circle from the ethnic side of things. When my family came here (from New York in 1982), there was still a lot of ethnicity in Milwaukee. You had the Serbians and the Croatians, Bavarians, Club Latino was around – La Liga didn’t even exist at the time. But the ethnicity from the German side has kind of gone away, Croatians has kind of gone away, Polonia as well. Serbians have still had an influx, at least in the Milwaukee area. But as for Bavarian, there are no German immigrants coming to Milwaukee anymore; it’s too hard to get a visa.

It changed over sort of in the late 1980s. Because at some point, someone decided they wanted to be at a higher level, have a club director of coaching, and not just have dads coaching – even if the dads were former players, like Bob Gansler and those kinds of guys. At that point, there was a heavy influx of English people that had come over – very qualified players and coaches – and the Louie Bennetts of the world, the Michael Kings of the world, they started to become directors of coaching, and then that’s when the culture started to change because you had full-time staff people at the club level. And the ethnic clubs sort of dropped off.

I don’t think there’s an ethnic rivalry out there anymore. We have a rivalry with Croatians because they’re really good and we play each other a lot. Kickers was always a rivalry because they’re close. But ethnic-wise, unless it’s two Hispanic teams playing against each other in a Hispanic league, the ethnicity piece is mostly gone. Well, I can imagine when Croatians plays Serbians, it’s probably still pretty ethnic. But that piece really isn’t there anymore.

I graduated college in ’91 and our youth program had dropped off at that point. But then Louie Bennett had his son, little Lou, and a group of kids from Shorewood, and he wanted to get involved again so he brought them back to Bavarians, where he had first come when he came over. And then John Coleman came along and coached. I had just graduated so I started coaching, and now you had sort of the generation of guys who had played in college, that weren’t German, but wanted to give back to their club, so then we all started coaching. The difference was we were paid coaches, but we had full-time jobs, as well. And that’s kind of how everybody has progressed along. Everybody has their own director of coaching now; 10 years ago, nobody did.

On the adult side, I think the biggest change is there’s really no ethnicity anymore. But a little bit of difference nowadays, too, it seems like guys have more things to do than just soccer. I think in the early 2000s, when I was coaching, we used to train two or three days a week and we had 25 guys at training. I think after that, you kind of build a culture and guys buy into that and you can be more competitive. We had a lot of college guys but we also had a lot of guys that had played at a high level – Scott Kreitmeir, Dan Stebbins, Chris Kelderman – so we had a very high level of player, and I think that made it a little bit easier, because if those guys are at training, how could you be a 20-year-old and not want to be on the field with those guys? And they held everybody to a very high standard.

Training was more competitive than games for us because you never wanted to lose in training to those guys. The games to some degree were easier, just given the high caliber of players we had. We had a lot of guys that played at UWM, Marquette, Parkside – a lot of guys that were really entrenched locally. Dan Stebbins had never played at another club besides Bavarians, neither had Scott Kreitmeir. These were guys that lived for the club; their parents were always there, so they didn’t have to think of a reason to be at practice, because it was always part of their lives. Now the way it is, it seems like it’s more challenging – guys have to think of a reason to be there as opposed to not be there.

OnMilwaukee: How does the men’s squad now differ from the Bavarian teams you played on in the late '80s and early '90s?

Zaiss: We did everything together. We all were married, had our kids at the same time, we had played with each other pretty much all our lives, we hung out after games and ate and drank together. Now these are guys that haven’t really played together at the youth level, but they love the club atmosphere, they love that they have a place they can call home. I know Croatians have a clubhouse, but that part is still missing for a lot of teams and we still have that.

When we played, we would have a game, shower, and then go up and have a meal and socialize together as families, with our kids and wives. We play now and you have to remind them that, ‘Hey, you know what, win, lose or draw, there’s a beer hall, let’s go socialize for half an hour.’ It makes the loss not as bad, makes the win a little better, and then you can go home. So it’s teaching them that next part that’s challenging. But they get it. They get it better than most, but I’m a little bit older than them and I’ve been there long enough that I know what I want them to get out of it, as well. It’s not just the playing part, but the culture part of the club. The old timers go up after a game and they want to see the young guys, talk to them about the game, tell them what they experienced, tell them what they did wrong (laughs).

It’s changed; it just seems like everybody’s more busy, jobs take more time, different things going on. You’re done at 9, you’ve got work in the morning, I get it, just stop in for 20 minutes of your time. But 15 years ago it wasn’t a question; you’d shower and 15 guys would go up. It wouldn’t be, why aren’t you there, it’s how long are you staying?

I caught the end of it when I was young. The games, it was a family event – you’d go there early with your families and stay late, eat dinner together, go to games together. It was a lifestyle at that point; it’s not a lifestyle anymore. I miss it a little bit.

What is Bavarian’s organizational mission?

The mission hasn’t changed. It’s a safe haven for kids to go and play and learn about life and about success and failure on and off field. You learn about dealing with coaches, which helps you deal with bosses later in life. Coaches, teammates you like or don’t like – culturally and socially, dealing with different people. You learn about working hard for something, teamwork, sacrificing for a goal.

What are your expectations for this weekend?

The community knows this is going on, the state associations have been sending stuff out. We have no expectations; we’re hoping 400-500 people come out. We have the premier match on Friday night because we’re the hosts.

Fan-wise, 500 and above would be great. Talent-wise, look, all these teams are very good. Everybody at this level is good. Obviously, playing at home is an advantage because you don’t have to travel. You sleep in your own bed. But there’s also the pressure of playing at home. I don’t know, favorite or not favorite. I would hope we’re playing in the final on Saturday. Otherwise, it would be a disappointment.

Would you consider playing a game against the Milwaukee Torrent, who are owned and coached by former Bavarian Andy Davi?

(laughs) You know, no one has ever approached us. The Nomad sponsors both of us; Mike Eitel has discussed possibly setting it up. We’d love to play. I think the community would love it. Andy feels he’s professional, so he’d argue his team is better. Pat and I would argue we’re better. That’s our egos; we have to feel that way. There is only one way to find out.

We’d love to do it. It’d be a great thing for us. I think the community would get behind it, as well. Andy’s done a great job marketing the Torrent, done a great job in the community so far. He was initially with us, we were the reason he came over (from Germany) – he came through Bavarians, which helped him in the process to get to Milwaukee. We’d love to play.

Aug. 5: Moreno Valley vs. Christos FC at 5:30 p.m. (semifinal)
Aug. 5: Bavarian S.C. vs. Legends FC at 8 p.m. (semifinal)
Aug. 6: 3rd place match at 5:30 p.m.
Aug. 6: National championship at 8 p.m.

Tickets for the USASA 2016 National Amateur Cup Finals are $10 per day for adults, $5 for youth and free for kids under 8.

Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.

After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.

Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.