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International soccer coming to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — The Florida Cup, an exhibition soccer tournament held in Orlando since 2015, will expand to St. Petersburg in 2017.

Tampa Bay Rowdies owner and CEO Bill Edwards, along with Florida Cup CEO Ricardo Villar, announced Tuesday that Al Lang Stadium will host at least three games in the tournament from Jan. 7-21. Two international teams, Vfl Wolfsburg of the German Bundesliga and Atletico River Plate in Argentina's Primera Division, will join the Rowdies in St. Petersburg for training and matches.

Ultimately, the goal is to have 14 teams total, eight in Orlando and six in St. Petersburg. Villar expects extra teams, schedules and match dates to be finalized in the next few weeks.

"It's the first international soccer tournament to be held at Al Lang Stadium and St. Petersburg, but it's certainly not the last," Edwards said.

The Florida Cup began in Orlando in 2015 with four teams from two countries. There were more than 10 teams from four continents in last year's event.

Unlike the previous two years, there will be a playoff format with a champion crowned in 2017. Teams will earn points in a round-robin phase Jan. 7-14. Then a single-elimination tournament will be played from Jan. 15-21. The final will be played in Orlando.

Villar said he is looking for clubs from Brazil, Asia and possibly Florida to round out the field.

"The Florida Cup continues to draw interest from some of the best clubs around the world, all looking to compete at the highest level as they prepare for their respective seasons," Villar said.

Last spring, the Rowdies hosted several Major League Soccer teams for training and exhibition matches. Edwards said obtaining matches in the Florida Cup was a yearlong process.

"I think this means so much because you are talking about another level of soccer that we haven't seen in this city," Edwards said. "We're working on making that level, but this is international soccer and they have been doing this for hundreds of years. They are way ahead of us, so we're happy to have them here."

Contact Rodney Page at rpage@tampabay.com. Follow @RodneyHomeTeam.

International soccer coming to St. Petersburg 08/02/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 2, 2016 7:04pm]
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