Louisville soccer fans rally around possible pro team
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A group of local soccer fans rolled out the welcome mat for potential investors Tuesday night. The group held their January meeting at Molly Malone's to host some of the owners of Orlando City Soccer Club.
The Louisville Coopers were founded last year to give soccer fans an opportunity to watch games together and lure a pro soccer club to town.
Orlando City is moving into Major League Soccer in 2015 and ownership wants to relocate their existing minor league team to Louisville. The team plays in the USL-Pro league, the top tier of United Soccer Leagues.
Owners Phil Rawlins and John Bonner spent most of Tuesday meeting with investors, the mayor and the Louisville Sports Commission to discuss the possibility of the move.
Rawlins says he likes the city and believes sufficient support exists locally.
"You've got a growing marketplace, a great youth soccer marketplace," Rawlins said before the reception. "You've obviously got a great supporters group right here tonight that is growing and burgeoning all the time. Put those together and I think you'd see success right here in the city."
Rawlins also says Orlando City is looking to own a stake in the new team as well, creating a unique connection between an MLS team and a minor league team. The connection would be one of the first official associations between an MLS team and a USL team, but Rawlins says the intent of the MLS is to make that the norm in 2015.
Local architect Wayne Estopinal is a minority owner in Orlando City and has helped facilitate the club's interest in the city.
"I think the heavy lifting is done for the day," Estopinal said before speaking to the crowd at Molly Malone's. "Tonight is about having fun and celebrating the possibility of local pro soccer with the fans."
However, Estopinal notes that there will be more work to do in the future if the team is to be brought in. Possible investors were briefed on ownership today, but still need to be locked in.
Rawlins and Estopinal both said Mayor Greg Fischer has been very supportive of the idea and that lots of ideas were thrown around in the meeting with him Tuesday. The Coopers have reached out to Mayor Fischer frequently via social media, and he promised to attend Tuesday night's party if his schedule would allow.
The ownership group discussed with the Mayor many possibilities for the team including a location. The preliminary idea would be to have the team play their games at Louisville Slugger Field. Estopinal says the field could be converted and that there would be plenty of time to rotate the field from baseball soccer. Rawlins said the field would actually allow both the Bats and the soccer team to play one more weekend game than the teams have had in the past.
A decision could come soon and ownership and fans alike want to make sure everything is ready for the move, both in interest and financing.
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