When striker Harry Kane scores a goal for his hometown team, Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League, Tottenham fans break into song, singing “Harry Kane! He’s one of our own!”
Every fan of every sports team feels a connection to their players, especially local ones. Badger football fans love players like , who grew up in Wisconsin and starred for their university, but there’s a special connection in soccer. International clubs build lifelong relationships with players through their youth academies and junior teams, allowing fans to literally watch the stars of the future grow up. The process produces a connection between the fans and homegrown players that American professional sports teams typically cannot match.
USL League One’s newest team, Forward Madison FC, is attempting to replicate that bond with a player Madison-area soccer fans will already be familiar with: Madison native and former Badger Carl Schneider.
“I played club [soccer] in Madison in high school, college and even in the summers between college seasons in Madison, so it definitely makes a lot of sense I would usher this team into the city,” Schneider said.
Forward’s inaugural season kicks off on April 6 against Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, and while they’ve signed another Wisconsinite — Milwaukee native JC Banks — Forward Madison managing director Peter Wilt knows that having a Madison native like Schneider in the team goes a long way to making immediate ties between fans and players.
“We want to be an aspirational team for kids growing up here, so when they see Forward Madison play, they can think to themselves realistically, 'That could be me someday,'” Wilt said.
Schneider, who grew up on the East Side of Madison, signed up for soccer in kindergarten and continued to play since then. In fourth grade, he tried out for the local club team the Madison 56ers, where soccer began to “ramp up.”
“We were traveling all over the region, and all the 56er coaches were super advanced,” Schneider said. “We stopped just kicking the ball and learned to pass and play possession.”
As a kid, Schneider loved basketball as well. But after breaking his arm in seventh grade halted that path to stardom, Schneider began to star at La Follete High School in soccer, playing for the varsity team as a freshman.
In his senior year, Schneider was named Wisconsin State Journal player of the year and to the second team All-State as he helped lead La Follete to their first Big Eight Conference title in 2010 with a perfect 9-0-0 record in conference play.
Schneider received offers from Northern Illinois and UW-Milwaukee after starring in high school, and he felt pretty set on going to UWM, but after he had a “really good camp” during a summer camp at UW-Madison, coach Keith Tiemeyer expressed interest in having him on the team.
Schneider grew up watching the Badgers football team on TV, which made his choice clearer.
“As soon as the Badgers showed interest, I knew that was what I wanted to do over UWM,” Schneider said.
Schneider redshirted his first year, which was pretty “tough on him.” After being a starring man at La Follete, where he frequently was forced to be an offensive threat from his central defender position, he now couldn’t travel with the team. Instead, Schneider said he and his fellow redshirts would go to the McClain training center and spend whole afternoons kicking the ball around in order to grow.
After playing in five games during his sophomore year, Schneider finally made the breakthrough in 2013, starting 15 games and helping the Badgers reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time this century. Since most of the other starters were older, Schneider didn’t have the pressure to dribble through a crowd of players to make a play.
“I knew my job was to just be a lockdown defender. Since I wasn’t worried about overplaying, I think it actually resulted in me making some pretty good plays,” Schneider said.
During the Badgers’ remarkable 2013, season Schneider’s favorite memory was a 4-3 win in their Big Ten home opener against the defending champion Indiana Hoosiers. Wisconsin came back from two goals down twice to win in front of a sold-out McClimon Soccer Complex.
“We had [about] 2,000 fans there, and everyone ran out onto the field [after the win]. That was special,” Schneider said.
After that season of triumph, the Badgers struggled in 2014 and 2015 as they started to rebuild. Schneider now took on more of a leadership role, trying to maintain positivity in the locker room even with all the new freshman playing.
“I never wanted to encourage other people in the locker room when things were going bad,” Schenider said. "I always wanted to be the person who was not afraid to say ‘[The negativity] isn’t helping us; we need to stay positive.’”
After his Wisconsin career, Schneider traveled to Sweden, where he played for sixth division team IFK Åmål. While it was a pretty smooth transition in terms of culture shock, Schneider was a bit surprised by the lack of intensity. Most of the players were part-time players, so Schneider had to learn to “push himself.”
His team won the sixth division title pretty handily, earning a promotion into the next tier up, but Schneider didn’t feel challenged. After hoping that back at Wisconsin coach Trask wouldn’t “run the team into the ground, ” the American defender would occasionally run sprints after the games to try and keep his fitness levels up.
After another Åmål earned another promotion, Schneider then got word from Madison that Forward Madison was starting to form. IFK Åmål was hoping to keep him, but the pull back to his hometown was too much to turn down.
Schneider is excited his family will be able to watch him play more than just once a year, and he’s excited to spread the word about the team.
“I’m just really excited to spread the word about the team,” Schneider said. “It would be pretty cool to talk to locals and be like yup, I went to La Follete, I lived on the East Side.”
Schneider likely won’t be the last former Wisconsin Badger to suit up for Forward Madison, at least if Peter Wilt can help it. Wilt has a close relationship with UW head coach John Trask, and Wilt said there are plans for scrimmages between Forward and the Badgers, along with the possibility that some Badgers will be able to play for Forward’s affiliate team in Green Bay in the USL League Two, a summer league for college players.
Either way, Carl Schneider is happy his journey in soccer brought him back home to Madison, and he hopes casual fans enjoy this first season.
“I think it’s gonna be a party,” Schneider said.