Falls' native Unger helps Sport Club win Milwaukee Major Division soccer title
Hits game-winning goal
The Milwaukee Sport Club helped make Nick Unger a high-level soccer player who earned all-state honors while at Wisconsin prep power Marquette and who later was a leader for the NCAA tournament-qualifying Penn University squad.
So it was only fitting last month that the Menomonee Falls native gave back to his home club, by helping its Milwaukee Major Division adult team win its first league title since the mid-1990s when he poked in a deflected shot from 18 yards out with less than a minute to go in the second overtime in the league championship game.
"I don't think I've ever had a goal like that (to win a championship)," Unger said. "The ball was laid off to me and I just did what I could with it.
"It was pretty cool. The last time we won was back in the mid-1990s and we still had one guy left from that last championship. It was great that we could do that for him."
Soccer was first love
The championship also continues a history of success for Unger, whose family lives, breathes and eats soccer. The son of former Falls' coach Mike Unger, Unger estimated that it was either his dad or older brother Kevin (another Marquette star) who first put a ball in front of him when he was about 5.
"I played a little basketball after that, but I was never serious about it," Nick said. "It was almost all soccer after that point."
He played for the Sport Club, which is based out of the fields at the Schwabenhof Bar and Hall on Silver Spring Road up until the time he was about 13 years old. Then he started playing for the SC Milwaukee team until he went to college. That SC Milwaukee team once made it to the national finals.
Nick was also part of a WIAA state championship with powerful Marquette in legendary coach Bob Spielmann's last year (2005) before heading out to Penn after graduation in 2008.
He said he carried much of what he learned from all his soccer influences to Penn, including the work of his father, long-time Sport Club coach Dave Scherer and Spielmann. A speedy and athletic midfielder, Nick Unger helped the Penn Quakers earn NCAA tournament berths his freshman and junior years before eventually graduating with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics in 2012.
Nick then came back home and was fortunate enough to land a job with the state of Wisconsin doing appraisal work.
But soccer was still in his blood and last August, he joined up with his old friends at the Sport Club to play for the Major Division team. In doing so, Nick was carrying on a tradition that had pre-dated the rise of soccer in the nation's suburbs in the 1980s. If one can find old Milwaukee Sentinel or Journal sports sections dating back to the 1960s fairly substantial round-ups could be found of the Milwaukee Major Men's League.
Back then, the league was populated by immigrants who brought their love of the sport to America. Now it's made up of their children and grandchildren who have popularized the sport. Now run by Wisconsin Soccer Leagues, the seven-team Major Division includes some of those old teams including the Croatian Eagles, the Bavarians and both the United Serbian and Milwaukee Serbian franchises (which his father, Mike, had played for when he was much younger).
In addition, there is an active 16-team Reserve Division. The season is split into fall and spring halves with both counting toward the eventual league championship.
This is the history that Unger was stepping into when he came back to play for his old club.
Playing for old coach
Scherer was again his coach and Unger fell right back into his beloved old familiar playing style.
"He's more of an attacking coach, very much in favor of maintaining possession as much as possible," Nick said. "In college, so much relied on athleticism and outmuscling the other teams. This is a more technical style of soccer. More of a purists' game."
Nick soon began having fun with his new team, and though the Sport Club didn't do as well in the regular season (fourth-place, 8-6-4 mark) it still qualified for the league championship tournament. It had gained some confidence by winning a major tournament over the Memorial Day weekend.
And in the league tourney, the Sport Club found a way. It won a wild 6-4 semifinal decision over the regular season champion Croatian Eagles. In that game, Nick took and hit two penalty kicks.
The subsequent championship game against the Milwaukee Kickers was a tense, more traditional affair, with both teams just missing out on good opportunities before heading into the overtime in a scoreless tie.
That set up Unger's heroics, which set up a long night of celebration for the team.
"This was a very good team to be a part of," he said. "It's the best team chemistry that I've ever been a part of. Not a lot of big heads or egos out there. Just a bunch of nice guys doing what they could for the team."
And he's hoping to be able to do it again next season. Practice for the fall season begins later this month and Unger's hunger for the sport he loves has not waned at all.
"I really would like to keep doing this," he said. "I've been pretty lucky (injury-wise). All I've really had is one shoulder surgery and my legs are still good. I know this could be taken away from me at any time (because of a major injury) so I'm going to enjoy this as long as I can."