Neenah, Wis., is excited. The little community about 40 minutes south of Green Bay will be rooting for more than just the Packers this season. One of their own, Kris Kelderman, is about to be signed by the Blast.
"We're a very sports-minded community," said Mayor Marigen Carpenter. "And I know the soccer community will be thrilled. I think the Kelderman family is to be credited for bringing soccer to the full attention of this community."
Yesterday, the Blast let Kelderman, its No. 1 draft choice out of the University of Virginia, know he had its full attention, telling him he has made the team.
"I'm excited," said Kelderman, a 6-foot, 178-pound defenseman who also can play midfield. "I came in not knowing what to expect, not knowing anyone personally and I had no idea what the level of competition would be. My only goal was to make the team. Now, I'll have to start setting some new goals."
Kelderman's signing brings the Blast roster to its 16-player limit, meaning if anyone else is signed, he will bump someone already signed.
The Blast decided not to offer contracts to third-year player David Vaudreuil and rookie John Maessner. Both have been offered tryouts with the Harrisburg Heat of the National Professional Soccer League, which is being coached by former Blast assistant Jim Pollihan.
That leaves Doug Miller, a midfielder from Loyola College, Joe Mallia, a goalkeeper from Old Dominion, and Tim Ernst, a forward from Evansville, still in camp and unsigned. Their number could expand to four, if Maryland Bays forward Jean Harbor shows up for a five-day tryout today.
"We've looked hard at our draft choices," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper. "Kris stands out. He has good composure, he sees things very well in front of him and he has a cannon in his right foot."
One of the things Cooper has been looking for this season is toughness and versatility. With Kelderman, he gets size and power, and a player capable of playing the midfield, as well as defender.
"I don't want us to get pushed around defensively," Cooper said. "We had too much of that last season. And I don't want Mike Stankovic to have to continue as our only enforcer. That's why we've gotten [Doug] Neely, [Iain] Fraser, [David] Eise and Emil [Dragicevic], they're all very good, tough players. And Kelderman fits right in with that. He makes good decisions and he's not afraid to be physical."
Kelderman is a soccer hero in his hometown. He learned the game from his father, Harry, who also coaches the Neenah High School soccer team. Neenah won state championships Kris' junior and senior years.
"Everyone back home is pretty excited," admitted Kelderman, 22. "This is the first time a soccer player has gotten to a level like this."
In Neenah, Mayor Carpenter said soccer is one of her city's most popular sports for boys and girls.
"I think most of our population will be thrilled to know others recognize excellence when they see it," said Carpenter, who quickly added that for a small "upper Northwest Wisconsin town of 24,000" Neenah holds its own in the world of athletics.
Natives Tami Whitlinger is on the pro tennis tour and Cathy Coenen made the U.S. Olympic handball team that played in Seoul.
The Keldermans own soccer stores in Neenah and Green Bay. A call to Wisconsin located Kris' sister, Jill, in the Green Bay store. When she was told her brother had made the Blast, her response was immediate and excited.
"Oh, this is wonderful," she said. "People have been coming in every day the last two weeks asking if we've heard anything about how Kris is doing. They'll be thrilled. We'll have to start selling Blast banners for sure."