Ball in Play
It Starts Here
Not since Erk announced Georgia Southern would be playing NCAA 1-AA football, has there been a sports revelation of this magnitude in Statesboro. This time, it’s all about big league Soccer. The rest of the world knows it as “football.” Americans tend to associate it with Moms, mini-vans, and recreation departments, but that’s all about to change with the announcement by owners Darin Van Tassell and Jeremy Aven of a Premier Development League (PDL) soccer franchise in Statesboro!
It’s currently the only franchise in Georgia, and the only one to serve an area that includes Augusta, Macon, and Savannah. With an expected economic impact of this scale, it may be time to learn a few soccer terms.
A player foresees possible passes in order to create scoring opportunities.
The vision for Van Tassell and Aven began with an association through the Storm Soccer Academy, a regional youth soccer league for players three to 18 owned by Aven. Van Tassell, owner of The Clubhouse, along with wife Netra Van Tassell, partnered with Aven to bring Storm Soccer to Statesboro and built fields at The Clubhouse to accommodate the growing demand. Storm Soccer Academy is part of an elite youth development league in which players are coached by licensed soccer instructors, not parents or volunteers.
Storm Soccer has over 100 elite players in Bulloch County alone, while Aven also has academies in Hilton Head Island, SC, and Savannah, GA.
With so much success in the youth market, it was easy to see possibilities for a higher level of play.
“Soccer is coming to play a vital role in the Statesboro and Savannah markets, and this part of the state represents one of the fastest growing sources of soccer talent in the nation,” said Van Tassell. “For us that’s a perfect combination.”
“Savannah and Statesboro have experienced lots of growth on the youth side in the last five years,” Aven stated, “I believe that such momentum will help to drive more growth not only in numbers but in the soccer culture here.”
A player starts or restarts the game by kicking the ball from the “center circle” to a teammate.
The announcement of the only PDL team in Georgia to locate in Statesboro was big news heralded at an official press conference at the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau in early August 2015. The Sports Tourism aspects of having a minor league soccer team in Statesboro made a partnership with the SCVB in researching the franchise development crucial. Media representatives from across the southeast were on hand for the announcement and to hear comments from Mayor Jan Moore, Georgia Southern Athletics Director Tom (T.K.) Kleinlein, Van Tassell, Aven, and league officials.
“We are excited about the addition of Statesboro for the 2016 PDL season,” PDL Director Todd Eason said. “Darin Van Tassell and Jeremy Aven have the vision and enthusiasm needed to ensure the club’s success. This will be a boost for the local soccer community, especially the elite players with dreams of playing at the next level.”
In agreement with Georgia Southern Athletics, the team will be playing a 14-game season with seven home games at the University’s Eagle Field soccer complex at Erk Russell Athletic Park near Paulson Stadium.
Kleinlein said, “I have seen the Statesboro community has the kind of loyal fan base a team counts on to succeed. This town is generous and supportive of all sports programming. I think bringing this level of soccer to the area will only benefit the University athletes who will be able to watch and participate in a more professional level of play, while the fans will be able to see world class soccer right here.”
A contest to name the team is being conducted on the team’s website www.statesboropdl.com. Once the mascot is chosen, a team logo and crest will be released on uniforms in late October. Search for a head coach has already begun with an announcement scheduled for November of this year. Player tryouts begin in January, and the new PDL team will kick-off its inaugural season in May of 2016.
Ball in Play
According to official soccer rules, the ball is in play all throughout the match duration.
What is the PDL and how does it fit into Major League Soccer (MLS)? The PDL is considered the top-level men’s amateur soccer competition in the U.S. and Canada. This will be the 64th team in the league. It’s called a development league because many MLS players got their start in the PDL. It is a proving ground for top North American players. Of those selected for the MLS SuperDraft during the past six seasons, 70% had PDL experience. That means area soccer fans will be able to watch future MLS stand-outs developing into champions on the field right in front of them.
There are four conferences – Eastern, Southern, Central, and Western – with 10 divisions. Conjecture is Statesboro’s team will be in the Eastern Conference, in the South Atlantic Division. The season spans May –July, with playoffs in late July and August. There are 14 games in a regular season, including both home and away. The top two to three teams in each division advance to the playoffs. In the playoffs teams play single match elimination games until a champion is decided for advancement to the Championship Semi-Final and Final matches.
The Long Ball
A long pass such as one made from the Fullbacks to the Goalkeeper.
The long range benefits of having a semi-professional league team are many. The increase in tourism spending with hotel stays, restaurants, and retail, increases tax revenue for the city and county. NCAA athletes on break during the summer months can continue playing a higher level of soccer which will not affect their college eligibility. The Storm Soccer League’s players will be able to observe soccer at a professional level advancing their own skills. The new team will draw visitors and fans from a broad area and demographic, making Statesboro a regional hub for high level sports entertainment. Other youth soccer leagues will bring regional games and tournaments to Statesboro throughout the year.
Future possibilities include a new stadium complex to accommodate the team and the addition of more than one club, perhaps even a women’s team.
The designated area, between the “goal line,” the “goal posts,” “and the “cross bar,” that team players must pass the ball into in order to score points.
Van Tassell and Aven have traveled the world in their respective roles as International Olympic Sports Administrator and Director of Coaching & Player Development for Storm Soccer. Each has seen the way other countries embrace soccer as the number one sport. That’s a soccer culture that they both are venturing on building here. In Storm Soccer, they can already see the potential.
“American kids mostly lack an outlet to watch live pro soccer,” said Aven. “For the elite youth player, this will give them the opportunity to see where their soccer training can lead, to college, and to the professional leagues. It’s also going to give them the opportunity to get on the team. Once they have reached U18, that next step is here for them.
“We know the PDL will help grow the sport. We’ll have exhibition games with European teams. There will be season tickets. We’ll be developing our own feeder market of players with the different levels of the game here. The PDL level of soccer will bring in new fans and get more kids and parents involved in growing the culture of soccer, now with unlimited potential.”