TAMPA — Tampa Bay is no stranger to the most popular sport on the planet — soccer.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies, the area's original professional sports team, were resurrected in 2010 after being dissolved in 1993. They played their first season in Tampa, before relocating across the bay to St. Petersburg, where they compete in the North American Soccer League, the NASL. They won the league championship last October.
Major League Soccer resided in Tampa for six years, from 1996-2001, as the Tampa Bay Mutiny competed here.
Now, the Tampa Marauders have joined the local soccer scene.
The Marauders are in the National Premier Soccer League, or NPSL, and compete in the five-team Sunshine Conference against teams from Cape Coral, Jacksonville, Miami and Georgia. Fifty-nine teams are participating in the NPSL this season.
Kevin Hickling, team president, said the club is a nonprofit organization that was created because of a gap they believe exists between the amateur under-18 level and the professional level in the Tampa Bay area.
"Many youth give up on soccer because they are not skilled enough yet to go pro or are academically ineligible for college play," Hickling said. "Additionally, we wanted to raise the interest in grass roots soccer in the Tampa Bay area and provide chances for underprivileged youth to attend soccer camps and games at no cost."
The team plans to provide a portion of ticket proceeds to local charities, including the Hillsborough Education Foundation those that support Moffitt Cancer Center and Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Home games will be played at Blake High School near downtown Tampa, which was chosen because of its central location, but also because it has no track around the field, allowing fans to be as close to the action as possible. The facility seats about 2,500.
"We have no plans to move to any other area," Hickling said.
Still to be seen, though, are how many of the 2,500 seats will be filled.
"Anticipating attendance during an inaugural season is very difficult," Hickling said. "However, we believe that with our very reasonably priced tickets, along with the support for local charities, we can easily see between 1,000 to 2,000 fans on average."
General admission tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and students, and $40 for field level seating. Season tickets begin at $40.
An interesting note about the Marauders' schedule: Home games will coincide with Tampa Bay Rowdies' away games, so soccer fans can see as much live soccer as possible.
"The Rowdies are a fantastic team in the NASL and we are working together to grow soccer in the area rather than compete. Our board members are very supportive of the Rowdies' organization and enjoy attending games ourselves, so there is no need to compete with them," Hickling said.
The Marauders opened their season last Saturday in Cape Coral with a 2-0 win against the Hurricanes. The Marauders are scheduled to play their first home game on April 21, against Cape Coral.
The Marauders' head coach is no stranger to Tampa. Maurice Loregnard handles three soccer responsibilities — as the head coach of the Marauders, associate head coach for the University of Tampa men's soccer team and as the boys director of coaching for Tampa Bay United.
"It is definitely challenging to juggle the many different hats that I hold," Loregnard said. "However, with a balance of good time management, a loving and understanding wife, and a love and passion for the game, it all helps me deal with the vast amount of time that I have to put in to make all these projects successful and still keep a healthy family lifestyle."
Loregnard has been involved in soccer since he was a boy. He grew up in Trinidad and Tobago and started playing soccer when he was 4. He has represented his country at the U14, U18, U20 and U23 levels before coming to the United States. He finished his college career at the University of Tampa, where he began getting into coaching after attending Young Harris College in Georgia.
"I realized It was a good fit for me, so I continued to further the process by getting all my licenses, and the rest is history," Loregnard said.
As for his goals with the Marauders, Loregnard said "my expectations are mixed, as I know we will have a solid team, but being a new franchise, I know nothing about the opposition."
"I guess my initial expectations are just to make sure our team is competitive," he said.