By Ray Koch
Go ahead and take a look at the NCAA men’s soccer rankings. There’s a team from Nebraska in the Top-25. “Wait it’s not Creighton?”
No, it’s not Creighton. It’s time to give the school five minutes away from Morrison Stadium some recognition for growing while you weren’t watching.
You can call them UNO, Omaha or simply the Mavericks. They play at this place called Caniglia Field, and when they are playing, you’ll be able to hear it from Dodge Street.You see,nestled in the middle of the quaint, picturesque campus is the home field to the only top-25 team in Nebraska, the UNO Mavericks.
The men’s team is ranked 10th in the country and is here to prove that they aren’t going anywhere. After a 6-0 start, the Mavericks are showing they have a lot of pride.
“It’s a nice feeling that we’re being rewarded for all the work the coaches and players have done,” head coach Jason Mims says. “Two Division I teams five minutes away and now it’s UNO as the top 25 team; it’s not like we’re still starting a program, we’re here.”
Nebraskans love successful sport teams. We have begged for a professional sports team for quite some time, and despite our relatively small market, both the NBA and NFL commissioners have contemplated Omaha as the destination for a new sports team.
Hell, 90,000 people will head out to Lincoln to watch a team that hasn’t come close to winning a national championship in over 15 years, while an average night under the lights at Caniglia Field consists of around 1,000 people.
OK, so I’m not expecting 90,000 people to show up for Omaha soccer, or even trying to compare the two for that matter. Soccer is still growing in the United States, and it will never be at the level football is for Americans. What I am saying though, is that Nebraskans love success. Why do you think all we talk about is 1994 and 1995? It’s that success that brings people back to the stadium.
Breaking news: UNO soccer has been pretty successful at home, too. The UNO men’s soccer team is 22-5-4 since 2013 at Caniglia Field. That’s quite a home-field advantage for a team that isn’t even the most respected team in the city. It speaks to the fans that the Mavericks do have and the exuberant passion they express at a Maverick’s home game.
“I think the cool part is that most of the people we get at the games are students,” Mims says. “They’re passionate, they really get behind the team and the cool part is that they make 1,000 people feel like four or five thousand.”
Not only does UNO deserve more fans at games, they deserve more recognition from the major news sources of Omaha. I believe many people would come out to show support if they realized how good the Maverick soccer team is. Mims is also hopeful that the team’s success can bring more people to notice UNO.
“If we can get more people out, then I think people will realize that there is another team in the city that can play,” he says.
It makes sense if you think about it. I mean, Omahans have shown they are willing to support any local team that is successful.The news channels jumped on the UNO basketball program bandwagon when they were one win away from going to March Madness.The Omaha Nighthawks had a following until the United Football League fizzled out. Still, watching the news at night, you might hear a snippet of UNO soccer recaps, but it will always be on the backburner of Creighton sports and Husker football (even if they aren’t in season).
I’m not proclaiming that UNO is on the same tier as Nebraska or even Creighton, and head coach Jason Mims realizes that as well.
“Creighton has so much history that we can’t replicate, but we are building our own history and our own footprint,” Mims said. “It’s cool to watch.”
In fact, UNO doesn’t want to be Creighton. What they have built is something that doesn’t follow the paradigm of any other school in Nebraska. Whether that’s by choice, or a product of feeling disrespected, UNO’s blue-collar identity resonates with both students and athletes.
“We are different than Creighton, it’s a totally different student body that goes to UNO,and we are our own team with our own identity,” Mims says. “We have our own history and our own following growing on campus.”
Whether more people attend games or not; and regardless of if UNO eventually will get the recognition they deserve, I promise you that the culture and success being brought about will not come to a halt. Why? Because the Mavericks didn’t start out with plentiful support. As their success blossoms, it is not dependent on local or national support. They do it for themselves, their small, but loyal fan base and each other.
Whether the rest of the city of Omaha jumps on the bandwagon,the Mavericks will still be here doing their thing – winning.