It is rare to see UWA alumni play professional sports today, with only a select few being the exception.
Just take a look at former UWA athlete and NFL superstar Malcolm Butler. Before he started playing for the New England Patriots and made the history making interception in Super Bowl 49, Butler played on the same Tiger Field that many UWA athletes perform on today.
Or, if football isn’t your sport, have a look at Tanner Rainey. Rainey was a starting pitcher for the West Alabama baseball team and now plays for the Cincinnati Reds.
With only a few athletes that leave UWA and go on to play professionally, Evan Beutler made history when he started his professional indoor soccer career.
What was usually a thin sheet of ice in the hockey arena was now replaced with the turf’s synthetic grass. Instead of feeling the heat from the sun, the lights from overhead provided a different atmosphere than anything he was used to.
The game he grew to know and perfect was suddenly something in the past, and all he knew was that the new indoor arena that he considered his playing field was nothing compared to the freedom of playing outdoors.
The rules he knew were irrelevant. He had to start over, learning how to master this now foreign sport in order to continue on his soccer career. Beutler says the new sport is like combining soccer, hockey and basketball all into one sport.
Evan Beutler is a professional soccer player in the Canadian Soccer League who grew up in the town of Enterprise. His journey to the professional level took him to places he never would have guessed upon graduating from his college team in Livingston.
“Using soccer skills and basketball defensive tactics with offensive movements, indoor soccer is highly intense and fast paced,” Beutler said. “The game is highly tactical where it’s more important to know what to do rather than simply being a good soccer game. “
When Beutler graduated from the University of West Alabama in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, indoor soccer is something that he never thought he would play. However, when the opportunity to play professionally for the Waza Flo, a professional arena soccer team in Detroit, Michigan came up he couldn’t decline.
“Evan is a class act, so I wasn’t surprised when he went on to play professionally after UWA,” said Matthew Thorne, head coach for the UWA men’s soccer team, in a March 2016 interview. “I’m delighted for him…he is the perfect professional and I was very proud to see him continue.”
As one of the original players from the first year with the men’s soccer program in 2012, Beutler scored a total of 13 goals in the 53 games he played for the Tigers.
“It really doesn’t surprise me that Evan was able to play arena soccer professionally,” said Brian Meadows, Beutler’s former teammate. “He was so talented on the outdoor pitch that I knew he could adjust to this new sport with ease.”
The transition from outdoor soccer to arena soccer was something that came with its own setbacks for Beutler.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Beutler said. “It was the same game, but with different rules and a different playing field. The sport itself was the same, but I felt like a was learning to play for the first time again.”
Although the basis of the two sports is the same, there are some key differences that make them completely different.
In arena soccer there are no throw ins, out of bounds or slide tackles due to the walls around the field and the “softness” of arena soccer.
Since there are walls around the entire field, there is no way to kick the ball out unless you clear the wall, Butler said. Players can use the walls to your benefit and harmonize them to your plays, but it’s a difficult skill to master.
With the lack of boundaries, the throw in is eliminated. In outdoor soccer, when the ball goes out of bounds in certain areas of the field outside of the penalty box and goal line the player of the team that did not have possession of the ball throws the ball back into play.
Arena soccer also has a designated spot on the field called the “time out box.” This area is designed for a player who makes a reckless penalty. The player must spend two minutes in the time out box leaving the team a man down for the chosen time instead of receiving a card.
All of these regulations play a major role in the plays that are made in outdoor soccer. They also affect the time clock and can cause a pause in the game Beutler said.
“The entire speed of the game is so new. With arena soccer, the play is almost continuous with no clock stops,” Beutler said. “It allows the game to flow more smoothly with no interruptions, but it does have its setbacks.”
His time with the Waza Flo came to an end when Beutler made the decision to move to play for a league in Canada, where is family is originally from.
Beutler now plays for the York Region Shooters, a professional outdoor team in the Canadian Soccer League. He attributes his accomplishments to the experience he gained here at UWA and through the transition and test of abilities that arena soccer gave him.
The Shooters recently won their league and finished the year as the regular season champions although they fell to a shootout against Hamilton City in the semifinals for the Canadian Soccer League.
“I wouldn’t have been able to make it this far without all of the time I spent at UWA. The difficult level of the practices and the skill that the team holds challenged me to better myself on the pitch,” Beutler said. “UWA really helped me to become the player I am today and I am grateful for my time there.”