Indoor soccer star from Hamilton flies under the radar back home in Canada
A showman and all-star with the Milwaukee Wave, Canadian Ian Bennett is a marquee goal-scorer in the Major Arena Soccer League.
Still, the 36-year-old Hamilton native flies under the radar north of the border.
"I try to stay humble. I'm not going to say 'Check it out,"' said Bennett, who has scored 215 goals over the last four seasons.
"I just don't want to be that guy that's throwing it in everyone's faces and stuff and (saying) 'Look at me,"' he added. "I try to stay in my own lane."
He's hard to miss in the chaotic goal-rich world of indoor soccer.
The Milwaukee forward opened the season with a bang Nov. 29, scoring on a spectacular overhead bicycle kick in a 7-2 win over the St. Louis Ambush. He had accounted for 44 of the Wave's 157 goals — in 20 games — when the global pandemic brought a premature end to the 17-team league's regular season on March 12, with a handful of games remaining.
Ranking second in the league behind Ontario (Calif.) Fury forward Franck Tayou's 47 goals, Bennett scored four or more goals six times this season, twice registering six-goal games.
"Like a fine wine, he gets better with age," said Milwaukee coach Giuliano Oliviero, a fellow Canadian who lined up with Bennett before transitioning from Wave player to coach.
Over the last five seasons, Bennett has been a first-team MASL all-star four times and a second-team all-star once.
"To be improving at this age and to be having more success than he did in his supposed prime years is a testament to just how he takes cares of himself and he prepares day-in, day-out," Oliviero said.
Bennett, who wears No. 26, is a larger-than-life character with a zest for life.
Bennett has his own clothing line
Away from soccer he is an entrepreneur with his own line of clothing (IB26) and watches (Bennetti Watches, in conjunction with his brother) as well as a soccer school (IB26 Training Academy) and podcast (Inspire Greatness with IB26).
He says he's not getting rich from it all. But he likes being busy and says the businesses allow him to connect with people.
His message is whatever you do, make it the best you can.
"The biggest thing is I like to help people. I like to inspire people ... There needs to be more love. People doing good things and wanting to be good people," he said. "It's not all about ... how much money you have, the biggest house, the best cars, the best everything.
"That's what I love about Canada. Everybody's comfortable in their own space.".
When it comes to soccer, Bennett has a nose for goal and a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
"It's knowing where to be. It's the will, it's the desire," said Oliviero. "Constantly pushing himself, never satisfied.
"He scores a lot of different ways ... I've seen him score some highlight-reel goals, I've seen him score some garbage goals," he added. "That's what goal-scorers are. They find a way to get that ball over the goal-line."
Bennett says he grew up with soccer. The game was always on in the family home — his father is from Jamaica and mother from Trinidad — and he started playing when he was four.
His dad coached him until he was 16. Bennett went on a soccer scholarship to Marian University in Indianapolis while playing club soccer for the Hamilton Thunder. After school, he signed with the Charleston Battery of the USL in 2007 with hopes of moving up to Major League Soccer.
But life took over. Bennett was about to become a father and his dedication to soccer wavered in the face of off-field demands. After a stint with the Richmond Kickers, he found himself playing indoors for the Chicago Storm in the off-season.
No stranger to the indoor game from growing up in Canada, he flourished. So he put his dreams aside, cut back on the travel that switching between indoor and outdoor soccer necessitated and decided to put down some roots down in Milwaukee after the Chicago franchise folded.
He has been with the Wave since 2009.
"I went there for two weeks to check it out and honestly I fell in love with it," he recalled. "The people — it's a small community but they love their sports. And they back their sports."
He credits Oliviero, who was named head coach in 2014, for taking his game to "a whole another level."
"He's given me the confidence to actually express myself, made me the captain and I thought that was huge," said Bennett. "I think he just sees stuff that people don't really see sometimes in me, which is awesome. And I think he expects a lot out of me."
Bennett represents Canada in beach soccer and futsal
Bennett shares any kudos with teammates, talking up their service.
Married with daughters aged nine and 12, Bennett has represented Canada in both beach soccer and futsal, FIFA's version of the indoor game.
"I'll represent my country in anything. It could be basket-weaving, anything. I don't care," Bennett said enthusiastically. "As long as I've got that red and white on, I'm going to do it."
Canada futsal coach Kyt Selaidopoulos played with and against Bennett indoors. Like Oliviero, he points to Bennett's meticulous off-field preparation as the base of his success at this stage of his career.
"His fitness, his training, everything is calculated. Everything is done in the way that a professional does it," Selaidopoulos said.
The Canada coach says Bennett still has a big role to play with the national team.
"He brings a lot of things to the table that could help the younger players and also helps our program grow," he said.
The Wave, formed in 1984, are indoor soccer royalty having won seven championships in a variety of leagues. The Milwaukee club has had its share of legends from goalkeeper Victor Nogueira to forward Michael King.
Bennett has that same star quality. "And I truly think he has more great years to come," said Oliviero.
The defending champion Wave (14-6) were second in the Eastern Division and fourth overall when the season was called with four games remaining.
"For us it was extremely disappointing because we felt like we were finally back to our championship form," said Oliviero, whose playing career included Canadian stints outdoors with the Montreal Impact, and Toronto Lynx and indoors with the Toronto ThunderHawks.
Oliviero also represented Canada both outdoors and at futsal.
Other Canadians on the Milwaukee roster are goalkeeper Josh Lemos, defender Daniel Chamale and forward Robert Renaud, all Canadian futsal internationals.
The MASL may not be back until October for 2020-21 training camps.