Indy Eleven Professional Soccer received resumes from across the world from people hoping to land the club’s top coaching spot, but in the end, the team kept its invitation inside the Hoosier State, naming Juergen Sommer as the its director of soccer operations and head coach.
In his dual roles, the Carmel resident and former goalkeeping legend will be entrusted to build the club’s roster and technical staff before leading Indy Eleven on the sideline during the squad’s inaugural season in 2014.
“I’m grateful to Ersal Ozdemir and Peter Wilt to have this wonderful opportunity to join Indy Eleven and build the sport of soccer in Indianapolis and throughout the State of Indiana,” Sommer said. “The mentorship of some tremendous coaches throughout my career, including several from right here in Indiana, has prepared me for this opportunity, and I relish the challenge of serving in that role. I look forward to assembling a great team that our fans can call their own.”
With the hiring of Sommer, 44, Peter Wilt, Indy Eleven president and general manager, fulfilled the club’s stated goal of hiring a qualified candidate with both strong ties to Indiana and solid connections across the local, national and international soccer communities. The former Indiana University standout and U.S. Men’s National Team veteran has lived in Indiana since retiring from a 12-year professional career in 2002 and has stayed plugged into the sport via coaching roles with the U.S. Soccer Federation, IU and Carmel United Soccer Club.
“I’m thrilled we were able to hire our top choice and maintain our commitment to do so with an Indiana-connected coach,” Wilt said. “Juergen’s knowledge, leadership, experience, connections and vision all are superb and in line with the qualities needed to make Indy Eleven successful.”
Born Indy Pro Soccer after launching as the 12th member of the North American Soccer League on Jan. 16, Indy Eleven established its permanent identity 99 days later on the 152nd anniversary of the establishment of the 11th Indiana Regiment during the Civil War on April 25, 1861.
The NASL is a professional soccer league established in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The NASL member teams are: Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, FC Edmonton, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, New York Cosmos, Minnesota Stars FC, Puerto Rico Islanders, San Antonio Scorpions FC, the 2012 champion Tampa Bay Rowdies, Indy Eleven, Ottawa Fury and Virginia Cavalry will begin play in 2014.
Sommer attended high school at Culver Academy in northern Indiana before heading south to Bloomington to walk-on at IU. He eventually posted 57 career wins for the Hoosiers, still standing as third-most in the program’s record books. Sommer broke through one of the most talent-rich position battles in U.S. Soccer’s history to that point to earn spots on both the 1994 and 1998 World Cup rosters, eventually finishing his senior international career with eight appearances from 1994 to 98.
After graduating, Sommer went England where he made history as the first American goalkeeper to play in the English Premier League during the 1995/96 campaign. In 1998 he moved back to the U.S. and joined the ranks of Major League Soccer. He battled injuries for much of his five-year run in MLS, but still collected 54 appearances between two seasons with the Columbus Crew (1998-99) and three with the New England Revolution (2000-02).
After retiring in 2002, Sommer returned to Indiana and stayed connected to the sport as a longtime member of the United States Soccer Federation’s Athletes Council and, more recently, as a member of the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s Board of Directors since 2011. A USSF “A” licensed coach, Sommer has sharpened his coaching chops as an Assistant Coach at Indiana University from 2004-07 under Mike Freitag; the Goalkeeper Coach for the U.S. Men’s National Team under the direction of another Peter Wilt hire, Bob Bradley, from 2007-10; and a six-year stint with Carmel United Soccer Club as Head Coach of some of the club’s elite Boys travel squads.
For his achievements in and service on behalf of the sport of soccer, Indiana Soccer named Sommer to its Hall of Fame in 2005.