Louisville could soon host pro soccer team
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville could be poised to be the next home of a professional soccer team. Owners of the Orlando City Soccer Club are reportedly looking for a new home for their United Soccer Leagues team and ownership might be interested in relocating to Louisville.
In November 2013, Major League Soccer announced it would be adding Orlando City to its ranks as an expansion franchise in 2015. The owners of OCSC might be looking to move its remaining USL-Pro team out of the market to broaden its reach, and Louisville would be a logical step with co-owner Wayne Estopinal operating out of the city.
Estopinal invested in Orlando City back in 2011, looking to expand his experience with professional soccer through his involvement in that club. Estopinal is also co-owner of the professional indoor soccer team Louisville Lighting, which has been on a hiatus since late 2012.
The group behind the push for professional soccer returning to Louisville is a group called the Louisville Coopers. The Coopers were founded last year as a way to draw out and unify support for a professional soccer team in the city. The organization named themselves, symbolically, after the people who make bourbon barrels that store the bourbon and contribute to its flavor (kind of their mission statement).
A few guys in Louisville who met at game watches for the U.S. men's national team games formed the Coopers. According to group spokesperson Jonathan Fish, "there was some trepidation at first as there was a loose plan, but we were immediately putting the group's name to a vote which led to some interesting conversations." Fish says he doesn't know who exactly started the organization but that Taylor Sorrels has been the de facto leader of the group since its inception.
Phil Rawlins and John Bonner, both part owners of Orlando City Soccer Club, are coming to The Coopers' January meeting. The pair hopes to gauge support for a club in town and to discuss the possibility of installing a USL-Pro franchise in the Derby City.
The group will be hosting its January meeting on the Jan. 14 at Molly Malone's on Baxter Avenue, and have been touting the meeting with OCSC on social media. USL-Pro is the top tier of the United Soccer Leagues and would be a major step for Louisville soccer and possibly a big recruiting tool for Ken Lolla and the University of Louisville men's soccer team.
The U of L men's team was national runners-up in the NCAA College Cup in 2011. That season, U of L hosted several NCAA tournament games, which drew record crowds of over five thousand. The successful season led the University to commission a new stadium and training facility for the team.
In 2013, Louisville player Andrew Farrell was selected number one overall in the MLS draft. The previous year, U of L alum Austin Berry was the MLS rookie of the year, with former U of L teammate Nick DeLeon as the runner-up. The recent run of success for the Cardinals hasn't gone unnoticed by investors and certainly has helped unite the soccer community across the city.
According to Fish, the Louisville Coopers' efforts to bring a pro team to town are only the beginning of their plans. "We are working on a structured branch-off of The Coopers that will focus on growing youth soccer in Louisville through providing equipment to those who can't afford it," Fish said. "There have been some discussions around it, but it's very much in its infancy right now."
The group has taken its push for pro soccer to the social media website Reddit.com, and many of the Reddit communities have voiced their support to see a professional soccer team in Louisville. Now The Coopers are hoping to mirror that support locally at meetings with campaigns on Facebook and Twitter.
Some concerns for investors would be finding an existing stadium for the team to play in, and drawing consistent support. The Louisville Lightning went on hiatus due to financial struggles stemming form low attendance. Although vocal supporters of pro soccer in Louisville have long insisted on sufficient fan support, investors are the key support needed and next week's meeting will be the first major test.