TAMPA, Fla. – The PDL announced the Lakeland Tropics, to begin play in 2017, as an expansion franchise on Monday. Led by CEO Andrew Haines, Central Florida Sports Ventures (CFSV) will operate the PDL franchise in Lakeland, Florida.
“We are thrilled to make our first expansion announcement for the 2017 season,” PDL Director Todd Eason said. “The Lakeland Tropics will bolster an already strong conference in the South and attract top college-aged players and local talent. The addition of this franchise gives the Lakeland community a high-caliber organization to showcase potential professionals, and I am confident that newly-appointed COO Chris Economides and the Tropics will seamlessly form some strong rivalries and produce the level of play that has defined the PDL.”
The Tropics will have a handful of regional rivalries starting in 2017, as seven Florida-based PDL members took part in the 2016 PDL campaign, including The Villages SC, IMG Academy and the South Florida Surf.
“Having a PDL team is huge for our own player development,” Tropics and CFSV CEO Haines said. “It allows us to keep players here year-round and stay involved in the community, inspiring future athletes to one day play professionally for their hometown team. Our goal is to always be competitive right from the start, and we will do everything in our power to bring home a trophy to this community.”
Sixty-seven teams in four conferences across North America took part in the 2016 PDL regular season, with 12 of the PDL franchises owned and operated by an MLS or USL club, or holding a partnership with an MLS or USL club.
“We are very excited to receive expansion rights for a PDL team here in Polk County,” Tropics COO Chris Economides said. “This gives us another avenue to engage and provide affordable entertainment to the community. We hope to rally the community behind the Tropics and provide a high level of professionalism both on and off the field.
“We have the people in place to do so, and we can’t wait to see what this organization can become and do for this community. Soccer is thriving, and it’s time Polk County gets a team that can compete on a national scale and attract some of the best athletes and future professionals.”
For more than two decades, the PDL has provided a development platform for future professional players. The league has received strong support from both Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League for providing a proven pathway to the professional game in North America. More than 200 PDL alumni, including MLS rookies in Keegan Rosenberry and Brandon Vincent, have participated in the 2016 MLS regular season, while U.S. Men’s National Team stars such as Brad Guzan and DeAndre Yedlin also competed and excelled in the PDL on their path to the professional ranks.