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League merger means fields may get crowded

BRANDON — A merger between two soccer leagues is bringing smiles to league leaders, but frowns among Hillsborough County parks officials.

Galactics Clearwater International F.C. recently announced an affiliation agreement with Players Club of Tampa Bay, a Hillsborough County organization.

The agreement means the 200-player Galactics league, based in Pinellas County, will play games in Hillsborough. The prospect of nonresident players using Hillsborough fields could ruffle some local leagues that are already strained for playing space.

John Brill, a Hillsborough County parks spokesman, said Tuesday that he hadn't heard of the merger, which he said was not part of an agreement with the Players Club to use county fields.

"This could put the Players Club's field-use agreement in jeopardy," Brill said.

Players Club director Romildo Sanches did not return calls seeking comment.

The merger will allow the Galactics league to play in events sanctioned by the nonprofit Florida Youth Soccer Association, said Galactics promotions director Charlotta Krueger.

The Players Club is sanctioned by FYSA, though the Galactics were not. Only teams sanctioned by FYSA may participate in FYSA events, including state and regional tournaments.

But for the Galactics to play at such venues as Brandon's Heather Lakes Park or the FishHawk Soccer Complex in Lithia, both of which are used by the Players Club, someone will need permission from Hillsborough County.

"Our agreement is with the Players Club," Brill said. "It's not with the Players Club and somebody else."

With field space at a premium, the issue of out-of-county players could get thorny.

"I don't think it's a good idea," said Steve Jarosz, who coaches the Brandon Flames of the Brandon Area Youth Soccer League, which has about 2,200 players.

BAYSL can't get more fields," Jarosz said. "And the idea that the Players Club can walk into a place like FishHawk and just take over the fields, it's kind of ridiculous."

Because the Galactics were never sanctioned by FYSA, the agreement with the Players Club is not technically a merger, FYSA spokeswomen Jennifer Slattery said: "Players Club has simply chosen to absorb that league and those players."

The Galactics were denied FYSA affiliation because the league could not get the recommendation of affiliated clubs in the region.

FYSA gives other clubs the right to speak for or against applicants because all clubs share space and referees, Slattery said.

Another proposed cross-county merger ran aground a year ago. New Tampa Soccer and the Central Pasco United Soccer Association were set to get hitched until Pasco officials got cold feet.

But Jose Torres, the executive director for New Tampa, predicts that soccer mergers are the way of the future.

"It's basically a way to help our players compete not just locally, but outside the state, where clubs have more than 5,000 members," he said.

It's happening elsewhere in the Tampa Bay area as well. In Pinellas County, the Clearwater Chargers and Countryside Lighting soccer clubs have announced the completion of a recent merger.

Soccer league officials in Manatee and Sarasota counties are in the "discussion stages" of forming elite teams across both counties, said Mike David of the Manatee Area Youth Soccer Organization, who also sees soccer mergers as an emerging trend.

In other states, "super clubs" made of combined leagues have been formed, David said.

"It means we will have greater numbers and better teams," he said.

"This has been happening nationwide," David said. "Florida is still catching up."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2431.

League merger means fields may get crowded 06/26/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 1, 2008 4:43pm]
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