TAMPA — Five years after its last visit, the U.S. men's national soccer team is returning to Tampa.
Raymond James Stadium was chosen as one of three venues to host the United States in group stage games for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The team will play its second game at the stadium on July 12.
The Gold Cup is held in odd-numbered years and features 12 national teams from North and Central America.
"Tampa Bay has a rich soccer tradition and this is a huge announcement for our community and continuing our next chapter as a soccer community," said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, which worked for about six months on a bid to be one of 14 host cities.
Since teams are still qualifying for the tournament, and it's not yet known who the United States will play at Raymond James. CONCACAF will finalize the draw and schedule next year, which could include Tampa hosting another game in the tournament, Higgins said.
Defending champion Mexico along with Canada, Curacao, French Guyana, Jamaica and Martinique have already qualified.
A crowd of almost 24,000 watched the last game the United States played at Ray Jay, a 3-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda in a 2012 World Cup qualifier.
Local members of the American Outlaws, an unofficial supporters group, said they were thrilled to have the national team come to town.
The Tampa chapter has about 50 members, many of whom travel around the country to attend games. Its members will gather after Christmas to plan tailgating and pregame parties and other events to welcome other Outlaw members from across the country, said chapter president Ryan Bushey.
"This really gives the game a lot more attention," Bushey said. "This area has a lot more soccer fans than anyone thinks."
There will be more international soccer coming to Tampa Bay next year. In January, Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg will host games in the 2017 Florida Cup, an international exhibition soccer tournament that includes the Rowdies, VFL Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen from the German Bundesliga, and Estudiantes from Argentina.
The tournament begins Jan. 8.
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.