Real Soccer at Rider: Mercer County Representation

By Sarah Griffin

After this summer, Rider will be able to add pre-professional sports league hosts to its list of attributes. 

The press release informs the Rider community that the Real Central NJ club’s men’s and women’s teams will play at Ben Cohen Field, from May to August, according to a Jan. 19, 2023 press release from the university. 

The minor league soccer team, which was established in 2020, “aims to bring high-quality soccer to Central Jersey, develop talented athletes and connect with the local community,” according to the press release.

After the league moved locations from Mercer County Community College, Rider was picked from a handful of schools in the Mercer County area because of the convenient location and many different resources. Rider offered the players and, perhaps most relevant for Real Central NJ, the brand new turf that covers Ben Cohen Field, according to the press release.

“We chose Rider in large part because of the amenities it offered compared to our old venue. We will be able to have food, corporate hospitality, easy access to locker rooms and parking right next to the field,” said Ira Jersey, Partner and Men’s General Manager for Real Central NJ, in a text exchange with The Rider News.

Jersey said that the amenities “should make it a great environment for fans and for players.” 

In addition, the location of Rider being “close to home” is something Jersey believes will be very beneficial to the players and the spectators during the event.

“I’m a Lawrenceville resident, as is one of my partners, and our other partners are from Hopewell,” said Jersey.

As the minor league hopes to broaden its horizons in the coming years, Jersey was hopeful that having the league play at Rider will help get their message of accessible athletics for Mercer residents out.

“Given that we’re hoping to expand into the professional ranks for both the men’s and women’s team in the area, we think this will be a great test for how we can build support for our pre-professional club,” said Jersey.

As a minor league organization, Jersey mentioned, Real Soccer is “not open to the public and is not pay to play. In fact, for both leagues, there is no charge for the players.”

Jersey was excited to share just how good his teams were, writing in an email, “We play in USL (United Soccer League) league two and the Women’s Premier Soccer league. Those are the highest level pre-professional leagues in the country.  Those are the summer leagues where most college draft picks in major league soccer and the national women’s soccer league play.”

Micheal Reca, the Vice President of Facilities and University Operations for Rider, said Rider came to host the league after they reached a mutual understanding with the university about “how popular soccer is in the area, and our turf field, and our location, and a lot of other factors that set us apart from other places they were looking at.”

Reca said the contract took awhile to be finalized, but is proud that the university and the league came to good terms. 

“I think they’re happy, and we’re happy,” he said.

For each game that will be played, Reca said Real Central NJ told the university to expect 200 to 300 spectators; he added that Rider has the ability to seat 400 people on the Ben Cohen Field bleachers, and the university is inviting people to bring lawn chairs to watch matches.

Reca said this is the first time Rider has hosted a semi-pro level sports event on campus, and says that Facilities and University Operations is “looking at a long-term relationship” with Real Central NJ, adding, “we’ll see how this summer goes and take it from there.”

Reca said that this event may offer some engagement for Rider students to help with “live streaming, announcing — we’re trying to work through the institution and find people in those majors to be part of it.”

Marlene Brockington, a junior from Trenton, has lived in Central Jersey all her life, and even though she is “not a big sports watcher,” she is excited about the tournament because of the attention Central Jersey will get on campus during the games.

“The capital of New Jersey is located in Central Jersey, Rider is in Central Jersey — it’s home to quite a few good New Jersey schools, like The College of New Jersey, Princeton University — it’s a good place for academics, and it’s nice area to raise a family in,” Brockington said about Central Jersey’s importance to the state.The Rider News will publish the schedule for the league in the original press release after it is made available.

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