With each passing year, it seems as though soccer at all levels takes a big step in the right direction.
Whether it's at the youth level, professional level or interest from fans, the sport that has long been known as, "The Sport of the Next Generation" continues to grow.
River Forest has recently become the home of three key figures in the professional soccer worldâ€"Chicago Storm chairman Victor Jakovljevic, Chicago Storm CEO Brian Loftin and Chicago Fire account executive Nichole Long.
"Soccer in this area is really growing," Long said. "There is huge potential for the sport at all levels, and it's really exciting to think about."
Jakovljevic is considered by many to be the driving force behind the Chicago Storm, and is the first former player to become a majority owner in the MISL.
He is the founding member of Chicago Indoor Soccer Club, LLC. and also is the president and sole shareholder of Deva Development, Inc. and Premiere One Properties, Inc. in Chicago.
The Yugoslavia native, who earned his American citizenship in 1984, moved to Chicago when he was 14, and later became a standout soccer player at Mather High School. He and current Storm coach Frank Klopas led the Rangers to the Public League Championship in 1983. The duo signed with the Chicago Sting in 1984.
Jakovljevic entered the indoor soccer world with the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL), where he continued his playing career with the Chicago Power, Albany Capitals, Hershey Impact, Milwaukee Wave and Cleveland Crunch.
When his 10-year career was over, he recorded 67 goals and 36 assists in 156 games. The attacking midfielder is remembered by many for helping the Power to the 1991 NPSL Championship in a three-game sweep of the Dayton Dynamo.
During his playing career, Jakovljevic decided to start a real estate development company. Deva Development has developed from a company with a modest three-flat building to constructing more than 400 units in Tri Taylor, South Loop, Galewood, Oak Park, Des Plaines, Lincoln Park and Bucktown.
Four years ago, Jakovljevic, who is married and has two children, started Premiere One Properties to act as his real estate sales office. Currently, Premiere includes 10 real estate brokers and support staff.
"Viktor was actually the one who introduced me to River Forest," Loftin said. "It's a great area, because it's close to UIC where we play, and it's not far from our offices in Melrose Park. It's a great area."
Loftin joined the Storm in September, after serving as the Vice President of Business Development for the Milwaukee Wave.
After retiring from playing in May 2003, Loftin transitioned smoothly into the business world serving as the Director of Soccer Operations for the Milwaukee Kickers Soccer Club and Uihlein Soccer Park. The Milwaukee Kickers boast nearly 8,000 players and a 14-field outdoor complex, with three full size indoor fields. "I was able to make a smooth transition from playing to the business side of things," Loftin said. "The Storm is only 19 months old, so there is still a lot of work to be done.
"But I think when people look back at where we have come from, everyone is pretty excited and happy. It takes time to build up a following, and figure out who you need to market to."
Loftin, who was named to the Milwaukee Business Journal's Top 40 under-40 year olds in 2005, played in more than 300 games during his 10-year career.
He found the back of the net 289 times, and made a number of goals with the U.S National Futsal team. Loftin won championships in 1997 with the Kansas City Attack and three with the Milwaukee Waveâ€"two as a player in 2000 and 2001, and one in the front office in 2005.
"We were pleased to add Brian to our organization and welcome the knowledge he brings from his extensive experience within the professional indoor soccer marketplace," Jakovljevic said. "Brian will be able to draw from his front office leadership initiatives at the Milwaukee Wave and the Milwaukee Kickers as well as his playing experience as an accomplished All-Star indoor soccer player. We are confident that Brian will be able to help us achieve the objectives we have set forth for our club."
Originally from Kansas City, Loftin attended college at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Evansville University. He began his professional playing career with the Kansas City Attack of the National Professional Soccer League and was named to the all-rookie team during his first season.
The last four years of his playing career were with the Wave, where he was named to the All-Star team in his last season.
Loftin's playing credentials include being an all-time regular-season leader in goals scored (139, sixth all-time) as well as a leader in total number of points (320, seventh all-time).
"I saw indoor soccer knock the NBA out of Kansas City," said Loftin, referring to the Kings moving to Sacramento back in the 1980s. "The indoor team in Kansas City used to draw 16,000 fans a game and it was exciting. That's what we want to create here with the Storm."
Loftin and Long have a little bit more than soccer in common. The two began dating eight months ago, and live together in River Forest.
"I met Brian when I was working for the Wave," said Long, who played college soccer at Milwaukee-Wisconsin. "We both enjoy the sport, and bounce a lot of ideas off of one another."
Long worked in the communications department for the Wave before moving to Chicago and accepting the position with the Fire.
"Neither one of us view our jobs as 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.," Loftin said. "In the sports industry, it's something that you live seven days a week, 24 hours a day. We're both passionate when it comes to our jobs, and it's something we enjoy. That's the great thing about it."