HAMMOND | Elite players don't always mix well with not-so-elite players.
"You can't place eight elite players with eight players who are just happy to be playing soccer," Mike Rance said. "You'll end up with nothing. You will no longer have an elite team for the elite players, nor an appropriate team for the other players."
A native of Great Britain, Rance started the Three Lions Futbol club in 2007. Since then, he has witnessed soccer's popularity grow in the States, especially in the younger divisions.
"For kids 10 and under, it's the most played sport," Rance said. "Not everyone stays with it as they get older for one reason or another, but many parents know that soccer is a good sport for their young ones to play.
"It keeps them moving. There's not much standing around in soccer. And with all the social media and video games around these days, soccer is a great way to get kids active."
From that vast amount of elementary-age players naturally emerges a fair collection of premier players. And Rance concurs that Northwest Indiana has bred quite a few top-notch kickers over the years.
"But the problem was there were too many clubs in the area competing with each other," Rance said. "We were spreading each other too thin."
Now, three local clubs are on the verge of becoming a fat cat ... or cats.
At the end of the spring season, Three Lions FC will merge with the Northwest Indiana FC and the Indiana Magic to form "Three Lions United."
"It was something we've been talking for a while," said Rance, who will serve as the TLU director of coaching and president. "We've all had a strong history with the same general idea of how to develop soccer in the region. Now, the collaboration has been completed.
"We're excited. Together, we're going to have more than 500 players and more than 30 boys and girls teams. This will not only make us the biggest elite boys and girls program in the area, but it will also help us serve (lower level) players better."
Other Three Lions United staff members include Mis' Mrak, who will head the club's training academy; Matt Aloia, who is the director of coaching for the 10-and-under players; Stephen Anthony, current president of Northwest Indiana United; and Jereme Rainwater, who was the director of coaching for the Indiana Magic.
"I am very excited not only for the future of the players and families of Indiana Magic, but for soccer in Northwest Indiana," Rainwater said. "This is a great opportunity for everyone involved in soccer in our area."
All three of the merging clubs will operate separately through the end of the 2014 spring season.
"We'll start tryouts and sign-ups in June after we're done here," said Rance, who was preparing the Three Lions FC U14 elite girls team for the Indiana State Cup, the team's final tourney of the season. "Then we'll start training in August."