Hey, Milwaukee parents! Have you been to a Wave game yet this season? Have you been to one even in the last few years? Well, why not? Plenty has changed since owner Mike Zimmerman took over the long-running indoor soccer franchise in 2014, but the core, family-friendly appeal of the team remains the same and it’s more exciting than ever.
So don’t wait any longer. Finish the holiday break on a high note, get a jump on your 2017 resolutions to do things differently and live life more fully, introduce your kids to new things, make lasting memories and have an unforgettable experience. Go to the Wave’s New Year’s Eve game against the archrival Chicago Mustangs this Saturday afternoon at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. Take your kids. Take your neighbors! Take your neighbors’ kids! Except that one who kind of smells and is always hungry.
The six-time indoor-champion Wave enter the matinee matchup with a 4-5 record – 2-1 at home – and in fourth place in the Major Arena Soccer League’s Central Division standings, trailing the second-place Mustangs, who are 5-2. On Dec. 10, Milwaukee won, 11-8, at Chicago, thanks to star Ian Bennett’s season-high seven goals.
"This Border Battle has become something of a tradition for us on New Year’s Eve," head coach Giuliano Oliviero said in a statement. "Last year, the Mustangs beat us in overtime. A few weeks ago we returned the favor and did something we have never done in the regular season: beat them in their home. Nothing has come easy to us this season and it’s going to take a complete 60-minute effort from everyone to get this win.
The matches are fast-faced, high-scoring and exhilarating, with in-game music, a rousing public address announcer and the players’ jaw-dropping skills and tricks. During stoppages, there are amusing sideshows, fun performances and concerts and fan giveaways to keep the attention of even the most distractable little ones.
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is at 3:05 p.m. The theme is "Kick’n in the New Year" and the fan giveaway is a 2017 Wave Calendar. Here are 10 reasons why you should go to the Balls to the Walls New Year’s Bash:
1. It’s gonna be a good game
Since the 2014-15 season, the Wave has a 6-5 record against the rival Mustangs. The games are typically close, tense and end in dramatic fashion. Further, Milwaukee is going to come out fired up and ready to go, following its 6-3 loss at home to the Syracuse Silver Knights on Dec. 17, the team’s last game. The Wave have now had two weeks to think about that defeat.
"It’s always difficult sitting on a loss for a long time. You want to be out there the next night after a tough loss but we’ve taken this winter break to clean up on restarts, free kicks and special teams," Oliviero said. "The guys as a whole have been doing a fantastic job working together and getting on the same page but we know Chicago will be looking for payback. We’ll be ready."
2. It’s great value
You won’t spend a better family-friendly sports entertainment dollar in the city. There’s not a bad seat in the UW Milwaukee Panther Arena, and, with tickets as low as $15 and affordable-yet-appealing food and drink options – the concession stands were renovated and improved with the Admirals moving into the venue this year – it’s a fun experience at an unbeatable price.
3. It’s early on NYE
With a start time of 3:05 p.m., the Wave game is early enough not to infringe on those New Year’s Eve plans you have. The kids will get all their energy out cheering and dancing, you’ll pass the afternoon enjoying yourself more than you thought and you’ll still have plenty of time to get ready for that grownup party or night out before the ball drops.
4. Indoor is a gateway game
Don’t like soccer because it’s low-scoring and slow? Fair enough. But indoor is a completely different game. The Wave average 6.2 goals per game, and the sport has a style and tempo that resembles basketball or hockey. There’s tactically attractive buildup play that ends in pretty tap-in goals, venomous long-range strikes that rocket into the upper corner and power-play opportunities when an opposing player is sent to the penalty box. Even if you don’t like soccer or you and your kids aren’t really sports fans, the indoor game is a perfect entry-level experience. This is a different sort of soccer.
5. Ian Bennett
The charismatic forward has been a Milwaukee fan favorite for years. Good with kids and great in front of net, Bennett is third in the MASL in goals (with 23) and points (27). The 33-year-old Ontario native’s seven goals against the Mustangs on Dec. 10 were the most scored in a game by one player so far this season; he’s averaging 3.0 points per game and leads the league in power-play goals (10). Often scoring and always smiling, Bennett is the kind of affable, accessible athlete that truly embraces being a role model for children.
6. Max Ferdinand
But Bennett’s not the only big scorer on the Wave. Midfielder Max Ferdinand leads the league in assists (14) and is fourth in points (23). The 30-year-old Brooklyn native had three assists in the last game against Chicago; he and Bennett form a dynamic duo on offense.
7. Van "The Man" McNeil
The veteran radio personality has been the beloved voice of the Wave for 18 years. You can usually see him standing on top of the boards, waving a towel, yelling, "Let’s go Wave!" and imploring the crowd to help the home team. McNeil provides great information and entertainment and isn’t above wearing a silly costume for some wacky halftime act. There's also a steady stream of 90s songs and Jock Jams-type music, plus quarter-break antics like giant ball pong and dizzy bat.
8. You never know what you'll see
When I was a little kid at a Wave game in the 1990s, I once saw the home crowd (bless them all) taunt a Cleveland Crunch player so ruthlessly while he was in the penalty box that he got out and tried to fight the fans. It was awesome. Last year, defender Tenzin Rampa, a Madison native and area coach, made the No. 1 play on ESPN's "SportsCenter" Top Ten countdown for his incredible bicycle-kick clearance off the goal line to preserve a victory.
9. The Wave are cool
One of the most noticeable changes since Zimmerman became owner is the team's new and improved branding. With sleek, neon-yellow-and-black uniforms, a black turf field and sharp new merchandise, the Wave look far better than the minor-league appearance of previous squads. After the games, young fans can still meet the players and get their autographs, just like always before, continuing one of the coolest kid-oriented traditions in pro sports.
10. It’s the country’s longest-running soccer team
The Wave is the oldest continuously operating professional soccer team in the United States. It’s survived six different indoor leagues, had a half dozen coaches, five owners and three home arenas and inducted almost 20 Wave Hall of Famers. Milwaukee has also won six championships, which is a lot more than any other local team, most recently capturing the title in 2012. Come out and support the city’s most successful professional sports franchise and have a great New Year’s Eve.
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 CBSSports.com, 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.