Locomotive brings summer soccer to Danville

Published 6:30 am Saturday, July 8, 2023


Contributing Writer

Danville’s newest soccer team has hit town like a freight train.

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The Danville Locomotive, an under-23 adult amateur team, got up steam quickly this spring and is powering its way through its inaugural season.

The Locomotive is capitalizing on Danville’s position as a thriving soccer community and on Centre College’s sparkling soccer facility to provide an opportunity for college players and others in the region to play the game during the summer.

Most of the approximately two dozen players on the roster have ties to the Bluegrass region and/or to colleges in the area, and this team gives them an opportunity that previously would have been much farther away.

“The idea is that the local kids, when they come back, have somewhere to play in the summer,” said Richard McAlister, one of the team’s four Danville-based owners. “Instead of having to go to Dayton or Cincinnati to play, they can come home, have a job, or do their internship and play locally.”

Jackson Kirn, who hails from Lexington and plays collegiately for Bellarmine, said he was thrilled to stay close to home to play during the summer.

“My bare minimum (expectations were) just to get some more touches and play with the people around me,” Kirn said. “With the owners and the support we have, with the environment that we have and the players — a lot of these players I haven’t seen in a while and we grew up playing together — it’s been great. I’ve been having a blast.”

Playing just a long ball from the Norfolk Southern rail yard that inspired the team’s name, the Locomotive is holding its own in a league made up primarily of teams from urban and suburban areas.

They are one of two Kentucky-based teams in the Ohio Valley Premier League, an amateur league sanctioned by U.S. Club Soccer that provides a competitive league with low costs and little travel for players.

The OVPL also has teams in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but few if any other teams come from towns the size of Danville.

“People that know soccer locally in the Bluegrass area know that Danville has a strong soccer base,” McAlister said. “I don’t think it would be terribly surprising for people in our region to hear that we would have a club like this and be trying to provide a way for kids to continue to play.”

Two of those players are McAlister’s sons Alec and Iain, Danville High School graduates who play collegiately for Centre and Lake Forest, respectively, and who are happy to have the chance to stay at home for summer soccer.

“The past two summers I’ve had to go out of state to play summer ball, so it’s been pretty cool,” Alec McAlister siad. “It’s great to have some of these teams come from these bigger cities and show what we’ve got here in Danville.”

Alec McAlister and Kirn were familiar with the OVPL, having played together last summer for a Cincinnati-based team that no longer exists. McAlister said the quality of play in the league, which formed in 2020 and began play in 2021, has improved, and the Locomotive fights right in.

“I’d say for our first season in the league we’ve definitely been holding our own,” he said. “A lot of these other teams we’ve been playing have been together for years on end and you can tell that. I think we’ve kind of made a name for ourselves already. We play an exciting brand of football.”

Danville is 2-3, but has not played since June 18, as two games have been postponed due to inclement weather.

The Locomotive will play their final five regular-season games over the next 10 days, including three home games at Centre’s Amend Field.

Their remaining home games:

• 8 p.m. Friday vs. Valhalla FC.

• 6 p.m. Sunday vs. Pro FC.

• 6 p.m. July 16 vs. FC Indiana.

Promotions and halftime challenges are attracting fans. Youth players wearing their uniform will be admitted free to Friday’s game, and Sunday is fiesta partido night.

Alec McAlister said the team is an asset for a community that supports soccer well.

“It gives kids who are playing in this area someone to look up to,” he said. “When I was in middle school or high school I would probably come to all these games, and it’s really cool to see the level you can progress to as you keep playing and keep working.”

Three players on the Locomotive’s 23-man roster are from Danville, and another 12 are from Lexington. There are 19 collegiate players, including six from Centre, three from Transylvania and two from Bellarmine.

The team is coached by Tate Spivey, a 2012 Mercer County graduate who spent the last six seasons as an assistant coach at Centre and who coaches club soccer in Lexington.

“When I was playing in college I drove to Louisville three times a week to do the same thing that we’re doing here,” Spivey said. “I think it’s great that these kids are able to … get everything they need to develop properly through the summer to prepare for their fall seasons, and within a 20-minute drive.”

The team was organized quickly this spring, and the roster was built largely by word of mouth. Kirn said he was happy to sign on board when Spivey told him about it.

“I’ve been training with Tate for a long time. He’s always talked about getting a team locally … and I always told him if he was able to get something started down here I’d be on board,” Kirn said.

Richard McAlister, who said the owners hope to add a team to the OVPL women’s league in the future, said the owners want the team to match up well with other teams in the league not only on the field but behind the scenes as well.

“We’re making sure we have everything that the kids need, providing a professional, organized club,” he said. “We’re hoping these kids become leaders in their soccer programs when they go back to play.”

Winning matters, but Spivey said player development is just as important.

“If we can do both throughout the season, I think that’s the best-case scenario,” he said. “I think our main goal is to see the development through the fall season. We want to make sure that every single one of our guys is prepared to win a spot, fight for a spot, keep a spot, become all-conference-type players.”