In the final match of the season, Union Dubuque Football Club faced its most daunting opponent.

Union fell, 5-0, to Chicago House AC — a professional team in the National Independent Soccer Association — in the last game of the Midwest Regional in the NISA Cup.

The NISA Cup, which debuted in 2020, pairs amateur clubs like Union Dubuque against member teams of NISA and other independent professional teams in a regional format. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, NISA is only declaring regional winners at this time, but hopes to have winners advance to a national championship next season.

Dubuque native John Prutch is the commissioner of the newly formed NISA and hopes to bring a different model of soccer to the United States.

“It’s community and club based as opposed to franchises and large franchise fees,” Prutch said. “Our open system also represents solidarity payments for players to move up and those payments go down to the (amateur) clubs to support them. It’s very similar to the European-based model.”

Amateur clubs like Union competing against professional teams such as Chicago House AC increases the probability of players getting recognized by pro squads and taking that next step.

“It’s about player movement,” Prutch said. “You never know when one of these kids is going to get spotted by a professional club and get signed.”

Prutch noted how just a couple weeks ago, Chicago House signed a player from a team in the Midwest Premier League — the league in which Union Dubuque competes.

“These kids like the ones playing for Union Dubuque all have a dream and they realize it’s probably remote, but boy if they have a shot, they are gonna give it a shot,” Prutch said. “And that’s what this is about — to encourage that and help them be seen.”

While Union finished 0-3 in the ultra-competitive Midwest Region, it doesn’t diminish what they accomplished through the season, its best statistically in its four years of existence.

“I’m proud of the guys — extremely proud of the guys that have committed themselves to this club,” Union coach Mike Paye said. “They have all had a great experience here and we are going to keep building from this in the future, but we are extremely proud of what these guys have shown and I could not be any happier for what these guys have done for this club.”

Union finished in fifth place in the 12-team West Division of the Midwest Premier League with a 4-4-3 record. They defeated arch-rival DeKalb County United for the first time in team history earlier this season and Clarke University product Patrick Asamoah became the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer with a goal on July 11 against Med City FC in the NISA Cup.

“Lots and lots of positives this season,” Paye said. “I think we are going to build off this and we could have a stronger squad next season. We have a lot of guys in our league that are actually going to be staying for this next summer. So we are building and the confidence for us as a whole is going to go up — it’s going to be high and we are just gonna try and maintain that the whole entire way.”

Paye also said playing against competition like Chicago House AC is important to growing the sport within the community.

“It just shows us our level,” he said. “It speaks volumes for itself. We can market this game right here and tell all the kids, ‘C’mon, let’s do better next season.’ I think next year all across the board, it will be a better showing; it will be a better everything.”

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