Hami Kara is a goalkeeper who bounced around the soccer world after being an all-New Englander at Wethersfield High School. He played at the University of Pittsburgh, continued his career in Turkey, and even landed on a Major League Soccer roster back in 2013.
Two years ago, he was going to start in net for Hartford City FC’s indoor team. But, he found out right before the season that the team had fallen apart.
"I was very aggravated," Kara said. "It was a very devastating time. For two of three weeks, I probably didn’t even touch a soccer ball I was so disappointed."
A federal investigation into the finances of the previous ownership group, Premier Sports Management Group, led to the Major Arena Soccer League to cut ties with the team. Eventually, Mitchell Anderson, the head of PSMG, pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering charges, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Now, the team is set to kick off its inaugural season on Saturday under new owner Aaron Sarwar.
Like many of his teammates, Hami has a day job while he chases his dream down at night. The 27-year-old is a commercial underwriter at The Hartford, and he signed on with a different team in 2016 as he tried to put Hartford City FC behind him. But when new ownership bought the rights to the capital city’s team late last year, Kara was approached to play.
"We all know how minor league professional sports can go. It can be around for awhile or it can come and go," Kara said. "I guess you just have to stay positive, keep training, keep the right mindset and hopefully a new opportunity comes. And it did."
Head coach Christian Benjamin put the team together after tryouts in March with an eye toward having local guys on the roster. It's part of the team's initiative to dig into what they call "soccer capital" in the area. The hope is that the community will fall in love with a team filled with its peers.
"As families become established here and as college players make their families here, you’re starting to increase that soccer base and that soccer capital in the area," Benjamin said. "That's what we are trying to tap into—some of these local talents."
Now, the goal is to show supporters that the team isn’t going anywhere. The team gave out free tickets at a local kids day last weekend and, in the future, it hopes to host some free clinics.
"We’re continuously trying to get our community of Hartford involved in soccer because soccer is so big here," Kara said. "We want everyone to understand that we are here to stay and we want their support because that’s going to help make us successful."
On Saturday, Kara will captain the team in its first game against Kingston Stockade FC in New York. Next Saturday, May 13, Hartford City FC has a home opener at 6:00 pm against Seacoast United at Central Connecticut State University.
An earlier version of this report said the first game against Kingston Stockade FC was in Rhode Island. It is in New York.