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FC Tampa Bay considers playing soccer at St. Petersburg's Al Lang Field

The FC Tampa Bay professional soccer franchise could call downtown St. Petersburg home this season.

The team, entering its second season as part of a Division 2 league, is in talks with the city to play its 2011 home games at Al Lang Field, officials from both sides said.

"We are in discussions with the city of St. Petersburg and Al Lang Field as a potential option for 2011," said Jeff Kamis, FC Tampa Bay's executive vice president for business development. "We are also looking at other venues in the Tampa Bay area and hope to have a formal announcement soon."

St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster said the city and the club "were in discussions" over using the Rays' former spring training home.

"I have spoken with them," Foster said. "But that's all I can tell you."

He wouldn't say when the discussions started or if a deal with the club is pending.

"I'm honored to be considered," Foster said.

FC Tampa Bay played its inaugural season at Tampa's Steinbrenner Field, the spring training home of the Yankees and home of one of their minor-league teams. The team has been considering several options for a new home, including USF and the University of Tampa, and staying at Steinbrenner has been a possibility.

While the team would be moving to another baseball stadium, FC Tampa Bay would be Al Lang Field's primary tenant. That likely would allow it to configure a field better suited for players and fans.

Plans are in the works to cover the in-play infield dirt — which presented problems for players at Steinbrenner — with grass or artificial turf and remove the plate and mound area to create better sight lines for fans.

The layout will be similar to that of the Portland Timbers, who had great success playing at a minor-league baseball stadium before moving up to Division 1 Major League Soccer effective this season. (Its stadium currently is being converted to soccer-only.)

Playing at Al Lang still would appear to be a short-term deal. The team still plans to build a soccer-only stadium in the next few years.

FC Tampa Bay, which recently changed its name from the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the wake of an 18-month trademark infringement lawsuit with a Dallas apparel company, brought professional soccer to the bay area for the first time since 2001, when the MLS's Tampa Bay Mutiny folded.

The inaugural home game drew an announced 8,082 fans, but attendance declined as the season progressed, summer temperatures increased and the team struggled to a 7-12-11 record.

FC Tampa Bay drew 3,886 per game, which was among the leaders in the 12-team USSF Division 2. But the announced crowd topped 4,500 just four times, and none after the fifth of 15 home games.

This season, most home games will be played on Saturday nights, including the opener on April 9. Last season the team played just five home games on Saturday.

After starting 5-1-3, Tampa Bay won just twice after May 29, missing the playoffs. Coach Paul Dalglish was fired Sept. 23 with two games remaining. A new coach is expected to be hired in the next few weeks.

Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.

FC Tampa Bay considers playing soccer at St. Petersburg's Al Lang Field 01/06/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 7, 2011 7:30am]
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