MARQUETTE — It’s the nation’s most popular sport. It’s the easiest sport to get into. And yet, here in Marquette, it’s gasping for air, clawing its way from the bottom of the barrel. It’s not the lack of motivation in players. It’s the environment and the passion of those teaching them.

Do me a favor: combine the passion to grow the sport with the experience of teaching its fundamentals to the best in the world. If you’re familiar with the local soccer scene, you know that adds up to Sasa Kostic. Instead of working overseas, with well–renowned clubs, Kostic chooses to spend his time in the Queen City, growing the sport that he loves.

“I think that all the players from the U.P. deserve the same chance as players from downstate,” said Kostic. “We need a better organization. We need a better structure. We need people that really want to help us develop a unique opportunity for all the players, if they want to be involved in soccer.”

This week, he’s brought in some more experience to teach the game to children looking to play competitively. Vlatko Andonovski currently coaches professional soccer, but was more than happy to help his friend grow the game.

“It’s been an incredible experience for me, a humbling experience,” said Andonovski. “I think that any time I have a chance, I’m more than happy to come and help out. I’m very supportive of the idea of promoting the game all over the country in small places like Marquette.”

“When we get an opportunity to have someone like Vlatko come in here, it’s amazing, not just as coaches, but as players, it’s an opportunity to meet somebody with his skill and respect and what he can bring to the table. It’s an amazing opportunity for these kids,” said Andrew Gooch, a U-13 coach for the Superiorland Soccer Association.

Currently, Kostic and Gooch work with what some would call opposing clubs. In Marquette, The Power Soccer Academy and The Superiorland Soccer Association run the show when it comes to the best chance to learn about and improve the game. But in a city of just over 21,000, the separation is not helping. The camp at the YMCA is helping bring the two together.

“This camp is open, it was open for everybody. Our intention is to provide an opportunity for all of the kids that are willing to be better,” said Kostic.

“This is a great opportunity for the two clubs, but the one thing we’re working for is not having two clubs anymore,” said Gooch. “We need to realize that we need to have one club, make one travel club and give opportunities for these kids to play at the highest level.”

Nowadays, sports are one of the few aspects of life that can bring people together. But this isn’t about setting differences aside for 90 minutes. It’s about starting a movement, giving kids a chance to become more than just athletes.

While soccer provides a high level of competition, it can also prepare kids for more than just winning or losing.

“I think we need the community to understand better what kinds of opportunities kids can get if they’re involved in soccer, and how they can influence on their future,” said Kostic. “They need to compete in life, for better jobs, better schools.”

It seems like a long road ahead for these coaches, but with the passion they’ve shown in growing the game of soccer, it shouldn’t take too much time at all.