Soccer: DeKalb County United ready to make statement in home opener

DeKalb County United’s Ilir Redzepi, from DeKalb, plays soccer tennis Thursday, June 6, 2024, at the Northern Illinois University Soccer and Track and Field Complex in DeKalb.

DeKALB – With relegation coming to the Midwest Premier League Heartland Division, DeKalb County United coach PJ Hamilton said the club isn’t looking to just avoid a demotion from Division I.

United is gunning for a top-three finish in the division. And Saturday’s home opener against Chicago House AC may prove pivotal in that quest.

House enters the game 2-0 in the division, sitting in third place with six points. United is 1-2 in league play and three points, or one win, behind House. Last year, DKCU knocked off House for the first time in program history.

“We want to keep with that trend,” Hamilton said. “It’s our first time to showcase to the new guys what the community involvement is all about. We’ve traveled really well, had a ton of support, but the support we receive at home is next level. I think it’s hands-down the best in the league.”

They’ll look to do it in front of their home crowd at 7 p.m. Saturday at the NIU soccer complex for the first time this year.

United enters the game coming off a 4-3 win against SAC Lightning in the opening round of the state cup. The win puts the team into the quarterfinals, the date and opponent still to be determined.

Ronan Wilcox had a hat trick in the win and is in his second year with the club. He plays collegiately for Western Michigan. United is 3-2 overall on the season with all five games on the road, and Wilcox said those games are a little slower and quieter than home games.

“We’re definitely looking to get in front of our home fans again, get a nice crowd and get some support for us,” Wilcox said.

The season opened with a 3-0 loss to RWB Adria, the defending state cup champs and runners-up in the division last year. Untied followed that with a 4-0 win against defending division champs Czarni Jaslo then knocked off Rockford FC 3-1 in the 815 cup before losing 2-1 to Bavarian United in another division game.

The team went 5-4-1 last year in the Heartland Division.

“I thought we had a pretty good year last year,” Wilcox said. “So far it’s been pretty slow. We’ve had a few rough results, but I think we’re starting to catch our stride. We had a good game last night, and I think we’re going to get some good home games and good results.”

This year, the Heartland Division of the MWPL split into two divisions. United is in the six-team top. The last-place team will be relegated to Division II with the top two teams from the lower division moving up. Last year the Heartland Division was 11 teams and wasn’t split.

A home win over House on Saturday could be key to the goal of a top-three finish, especially considering United already has lost to the top two teams in the division.

“We can’t wait to be home,” DeKalb grad Julian Garcia said. “The past couple games, they’ve been away, and we haven’t been able to see the home fans. We’re just ready to put on a show for the home fans.”

Wilcox said the team is chasing trophies and is hoping to make a splash in the state cup. He said they’re hoping to keep that momentum going whenever the quarterfinal ends up being played.

“We’re really excited about our draw. There’s a lot of teams in the PSL that we don’t get to play normally, so we’re excited to match up against them and kind of compare the Midwest Premier League to the PSL,” Hamilton said. “It’s an opportunity for our guys to compete at a high level and showcase their skill sets in a DeKalb County uniform.”

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