Fueled by A Spirit of Community and Freedom, Considered the Country’s Oldest Continuously Operating Team Speaks Out
Turning back the clock to when the first World War ravaged the land and soccer was passion shared by many displaced peoples.
The year is 1917 and people are fleeing the Hungarian-Austrian Empire during the midst of World War 1.
They are looking for freedom, or anything other than what is going on in Europe. It is Milwaukee, Wisconsin where waves of these individuals would end up, and that’s where Croatian Eagles SC would be born.
The small Croatian community that immigrated to the United States started operating a soccer club under the Rotary International Flagship for five years. It was 1922 that the Eagles would officially be established.
The name you ask? Funny story.
Club President Fredy Jany told me that there are two different theories behind it.
The first theory is that it was a translation error from Croatian into English,” said Jany. “It was supposed to be Croatian falcons but it was mistranslated into eagles.”
The second theory is more symbolic. “During that time, they were fleeing the Austrian-Hungarian Empire due to unrest in the first World War. As a result of tension and immigration into the United States, they incorporated eagle into the name because they were so thankful for freedom,” said Jany. “
When you look at the crest, I’m not sure how many other clubs have the United States flag embedded into their crest.”Fredy Jany, President Croatian Eagles
The club was founded by a Croatian priest, Charles Jesih, and played as an independent club around various parks throughout the Milwaukee area.
The Eagles have been operating at all levels of play, including adult soccer, going back to 1917.
It was 1956 that a group of Croatian families came together and bought the Croatian Park that they now call home. In the 1980’s, another ten acres was purchased and added to the existing park.
The history of the Eagles is rich, to say the least. Most clubs cannot gauge success at a national level.
The Croatians, however, have recorded two National Championships, the first a Midwest National Championship in 1946 and the most recent being a United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) Championship in 2012, the club’s 90th anniversary.
As a matter of fact, the only other Wisconsin adult teams to win a National Championship are Bavarian SC and Madison 56ers and the only other Croatian club to win one is RWB Adria.
Focus started to shift toward some higher competition in 2014 when the Croatians co-founded the Great Lakes Premier League (GLPL), a regional-based league made up of amateur teams through the Great Lakes region.
“We wanted to create a league that was a little more ambitious so we became one of the founding fathers of the GLPL.”Fredy Jany, President Croatian Eagles
A year later the league expanded outside of the Great Lakes region and became the Premier League of America (PLA) before being absorbed by the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) in 2017.
The Croatians play in the UPSL’s Midwest Conference Central Division I.
They compete with the likes of Milwaukee Bavarian SC, Rush Wisconsin West SC and United Serbian FC. The team also has an opportunity to qualify for the US Open Cup through the UPSL.
The Eagles do not have just one single owner. In what I find to be one of the most interesting things about them, they are owned by the Croatian community.
The overall goal of the Croatians club is to introduce players at a young age to the game.
“From the youth level all the way to the adult level,” said Jany. “We may have an Executive Board on paper, I may be the President, but it’s the community that owns this team.”
The Croatian Eagles Offers Soccer for a Lifetime
“The club is geared toward our youth and our adults. The players come up through the youth system, play until they are 18, go off to college, get married, have a family, and then come back and continue playing in the adult league or become active parents supporting their kids as once did their parents,” said Jany.
With the introduction of the UPSL into the equation now though, players have the opportunity to play at a highly competitive level while attending school.
“We have Division I, Division III players on our UPSL squad,” said Jany. “They are mainly local players, and they can play when they are released from collegiate duties.”
“Our Division I players are not able to join until early May, but then they’ll play for the rest of the spring and throughout the summer. Our Division III players can play throughout most of the spring,” explained Jany.
While the club hasn’t produced any players who have advanced to play professional soccer just yet, Jany mentioned a couple of players we should all keep an eye out for.
“Molly O’Reagan and Sophia Balistrieri … are two players to watch.”Fredy Jany, President Croatian Eagles
Both players have come up through the club’s youth system and are now part of the U.S. Soccer national player pool.
In today’s modern and ever-changing, fast-paced world, it is not often that we can celebrate sustainability within community soccer programs.
Perhaps the Croatian Eagles have the right recipe for sustainability —and the ingredients are freedom, community and a love for the game.