Photo by Frank Fortune/Tormenta FC
There are a handful of teams making their PDL debuts in 2016, but South Georgia Tormenta FC is a team that is turning a lot of heads.
Tormenta FC, founded in 2015 and based in Statesboro, Georgia, has only played two games thus far in its inaugural season. One of those matches was the club's home opener against the Carolina Dynamo at Erk Russell Athletic Park. While Tormenta FC suffered its first loss of the season in that game, the atmosphere and attendance were one of the best the PDL has seen all season long, and served as a great first step for a new club heading in the right direction.
"When a new club is able to put over 3,100 people in the stands for its first home game in franchise history, it says so much about our community and the people that work in our front office," Tormenta FC Owner and President Darin H. Van Tassell said. "Ours is a sports-rich region, and the people here will always support those teams that they feel represent them. We work everyday to earn the respect of the people that live here. Our best crowds are still to come."
Van Tassell credits the work of General Manager and Head Coach Ben Freakley, Vice President for Franchise Development Heidi Jeffers and the entire staff for making Tormenta FC what it is today.
"Our attendance numbers are a reflection of the process that started back in October," Freakley said. "For the last seven months, Tormenta FC has participated in community events, press events, uniform reveals, Rotary meetings, magazine articles, radio shows, coaches shows and email blasts letting the world know about our club. The fans that showed up validated the hard work put in by the ownership and front office team to make this happen. South Georgia rallied behind Tormenta FC for our first game. That size of a home crowd demonstrates that a soccer fan base can be built up with hard work and enthusiasm."
Van Tassell is an important piece to the puzzle, as he brings valuable personal experience and knowledge to one of the PDL's newest teams.
"I have had the good fortune to be a three-time Olympian in baseball in my life. I was a Head Coach in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, a Technical Director at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the Competition Director for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Those experiences have afforded me a vision for how we can make Tormenta FC work," Van Tassell said. "We first earned the support of our local government agencies. Our mayor, council members, state senators and representatives all deserve my thanks. We then sought to earn the support of our community. Fellow owner Jeremy Aven built into our franchise an existing elite youth soccer club of over 1,000 families, which gave Tormenta FC the ground work for what a professional sports organization should look like. Fellow owner Netra Van Tassell built into our franchise the business acumen that permits our players to live together, eat together, train together and relax together. We have a fabulous local fan base.
"We do all the things that would rival that of any Olympic event that I have been a part of. If we are setting ourselves apart from the rest of the teams in the PDL, it is only because the rest of the teams in the PDL push us to be our best. 'Pros Start Here' is not simply a slogan. We seek for it to be our entire identity."
Storm Soccer Academy players
Tormenta FC's Mission Statement, "Pros Start Here," is echoed and followed by every member on the team, but spearheaded by Freakley.
"There is diversity in this area and one thing that can connect a diverse crowed is a love for a sport or an event," Freakley said. "We have great support because we have great people. Part of our fan base supports us because they love the game and they enjoy seeing a good level of soccer being played in this area. Part of this fan base supports us because our games provide non-stop entertainment from the moment the gates open - free soccer clinic, live bands, food, drinks, bouncy houses ... you don't have to love soccer to love Tormenta FC. Mostly, I believe people support us because we have great people involved in this project. The Van Tassell family, Jeremy Aven, Heidi Jeffers ... those people work endlessly to make sure Tormenta FC lives up to its mission statement: Pros Start Here."
Championships, quality soccer, the development of future professionals, supporting and enriching local youth soccer programs and building strong relationships with the people and businesses in Statesboro are Tormenta FC's current aims. As for the future, a soccer-specific stadium is high on the list of wants and needs.
"We need a new stadium," Van Tassell said. "That aspiration weighs heavily on our need to make it happen. And with a new stadium, there are other things we dare to dream about. But at the moment, our sights are still set on a single prize: a PDL Championship and providing our fans with a club they can rally around."