BRANDON — Two of the area's largest soccer clubs could merge soon. Board members of Brandon Area Youth Soccer League and HC United are talking about folding the groups into a single entity.
BAYSL board members at a meeting on Aug. 20 expressed hope that such a deal could create a super-sized club with up to 4,000 members and a stronger presence in regional tournaments.
At the same time, another development — stemming from the projected rebirth in 2010 of the Tampa Bay Rowdies — will also affect youth soccer.
Rowdies marketing official Terry Van Der Beck also addressed the BAYSL meeting to announce the likely formation of an exhibition team to play under the Rowdies banner.
While set in the future, both events speak volumes about the state of youth soccer in Hillsborough County.
BAYSL of Brandon and the Tampa-based HC United could combine up to 2,000 players each, creating bigger pools from which to field competitive teams.
BAYSL board members have voted to meet with an advisory committee from HC United.
HC United president Eric Sims said a merger would give the new club more leverage with suppliers and with Hillsborough County's parks department, with whom HC United has a lease agreement.
"If we go to Adidas and tell them we have 4,000 uniforms to order, it's going to be cheaper," Sims said.
Any merger would take about a year, BAYSL president Steve Jarosz said. Under the likely terms, both BAYSL and HC United would cease to exist and a new organization would be formed.
The trend isn't limited to Hillsborough County. The Clearwater Chargers and Countryside Lightning soccer clubs merged recently in Pinellas.
Soccer clubs in Sarasota and Manatee counties are also discussing joining forces.
The rationale, Jarosz said, is the ability to field more competitive teams. Still another opportunity for exposure could await some soccer players.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies are considering fielding an amateur team from the area for exhibition play. With a professional team to create and a stadium to build, there is ample time for an amateur league, Van Der Beck said.
A team might consist of a few players borrowed from existing leagues in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties, Van Der Beck said. Such a team could have the opportunity to compete in the Dallas Cup, the Disney Cup and Super Y tournaments. "Will they ever play for the Tampa Bay Rowdies? I don't know," Van Der Beck said. "But we'd be giving them the opportunity."
Both the possible merger and talk of an exhibition team reflect soccer's steadily growing popularity.
US Youth Soccer, a national nonprofit organization and parent group to the Florida Youth Soccer Association, has 3.2-million members ages 5 to 19, up from fewer then 2-million in 1990.
More than 600 college coaches attend regional tournaments yearly to scout players, and scholarships have also increased, said US Soccer spokeswoman Shannon Holtz.
"What's happening now is that instead of just being popular with youth, soccer is getting more attention in the media," Holtz said. "People are talking about it, not just taking their kids to practice."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (813) 661-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.