LAND O'LAKES — An eclectic mix of soccer talent gathers every Sunday on a quiet patch nestled behind the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex for the chance to kick it around and sharpen their competitive edge.
The common thread among the members of the Adult Premier Soccer League is a lifelong love of soccer and a nonchalant approach to playing the game. The league, in its first season, was developed by four local men looking to give Pasco's casual soccer players a new outlet.
"We started this because we identified the need for a league in the area that wasn't playing at a high level," APSL co-creator Miguel Herrera said. "This is a little more laid-back. We got a good response. Now we have 93 players in the league, which we think will increase because we started in the summer and a lot of people still don't know about us."
The partnership between Herrera and Colin Eke, both of Wesley Chapel, along with Eddie Oyakholime of Land O'Lakes and Eddie Costa of Lutz came about by chance. Herrera and Eke, colleagues who work at international shipping company Hapag-Lloyd in Tampa, talked during their daily car pool rides about creating a league. As they discovered Costa and Oyakhilome had similar ideas, they decided to join forces.
"When we came together is when the league really took off," Eke said. "With Eddie's experience as a professional and creating youth soccer academies, my background in refereeing, Miguel's enthusiasm and ability to build a website and handle the business side and Eddie Costa's contacts in the area, it was a great fit and we've been able to take off with an exciting project. Now we may be working with another in the area to merge and grow even further."
Players in the league are at different skill levels. While most appreciate the chance to compete, they more so appreciate what the league doesn't have.
"There isn't the amount of fights and testosterone that you get in other leagues," 35-year-old Wesley Chapel resident Matt Blevins said. "It's competitive, but everyone has the same attitude that we all have to go to work on Monday. Everyone gets a good workout without any cheap shots. There's no swearing or name-calling — I've got my kids here. At this point in our lives, it's an adult league and this is how it should be."
Blevins, like many of the league's players, previously made the drive from Pasco to West Tampa to play in one of the area's most popular leagues, Tampa Bay Club Sport. The creation of the APSL gives him a chance to play closer to home.
"I would go 45 minutes to play for 45 minutes and then drive back," Blevins said. "I've been waiting for something like this to come to the area, and I think as it catches wind, more and more people will stop driving down there to play and instead come here."
For 26-year-old Sami Jadallah, a strength and conditioning coach with Lutz's FC Tampa, the league gives him the chance to play the game he has loved since boyhood, as well as put his training methods to the test.
"I think you if you love the game," he said, "you never stop playing."