When left Fairleigh Dickinson University as a three-time All-American more than 20 years ago, Mequon resident and retired Milwaukee Wave all-time leading scorer Michael King longed for the fresh air and roaring crowds of outdoor major league professional soccer.
But soccer in the United States was going through a transition, so King had to settle for the cramped but speedy and very noisy indoor game.
It turned out to be good enough.
King spent 22 years indoors, 15 of which with the Wave, and racked up a remarkable 766 goals and four championship rings. His commitment that will be honored at the U.S. Cellular Arena on Sunday, Feb. 15 prior to the Wave's 2 p.m. game with the Detroit Ignition when his number 13 jersey will be retired and join just three others hanging from the Arena's rafters.
"I just tried to make the most of my opportunities," King said. "I really couldn't play outdoor soccer at the level I wanted to so I took the indoor option. It turned out to serve me well."
A hard-charging, charismatic forward, King developed a large following with the Wave after he joined them in 1993-94. The Wave was the fourth and final indoor team the London-born King played for. He fit in well with the community with both his entertaining style of play and commitment to his adopted city.
More than just a player
The ceremony on Sunday will honor King's philanthropic ventures as much as his play. Many years ago, he joined with long-time Wave trainer Larry Sayles in becoming involved with the MACC Fund, the well-known children's cancer organization. Sayles' wife was chair of the Women for MACC arm of the charity as their son was in the midst of a fight against brain cancer that is currently in remission.
King, an outdoor enthusiast, put his own spin on fundraising by co-sponsoring a trap-shooting benefit for MACC in Hartford every year. The event has been so successful that King has spun an off-shoot of "3-D archery" (shooting at Styrofoam animals).
"In fact, if the economy holds together we'll go over $1 million raised this year," he said.
He's grateful to the Wave organization for this honor and proud to be joining the likes of Pete Knezic, Steve Morris and Victor Nogueira among the team's most honored. He said he was grateful to his "teachers" who gave him a great understanding of the faster, more physical indoor game and noted that he wouldn't be gaining this honor without the help of the community support the team received.
"I'd like to think that my longevity helped keep the fans coming," he said. "I hope I was able to help keep the fans in the area who love soccer coming and maybe change the minds of some who didn't."
In his retirement from play, King is now a full-time coach with the Milwaukee Kickers organization. He also spends a great deal of time with his family, wife Niko, daughters Samantha and Sophia and step-son Gabe Genovesi. Genovesi is a star midfielder for the state power Homestead boys team.
It's been a long road since he arrived in America as a 19-year old wanting to go to college and to spread the word about the joys of soccer.
"I knew shortly after I arrived that I would like to stay here permanently," King said. "I'm glad I did."
Steven L. Tietz can be reached at (262) 446-6619 or email@example.com.
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