There are no players, coaches, team name, nor stadium for home matches, but there is plenty of excitement about women’s professional soccer coming to Tampa Bay.
That was apparent Friday when boosters and dignitaries filled the Hotel Haya ballroom near capacity for an introductory news conference for the United Soccer League (USL) Super League featuring league President Amanda Vandervort and team owners Darryl Shaw, David Laxer and Jeff Fox.
The welcoming committee included Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, the mascots from Tampa Bay’s existing professional sports teams and others clad in scarves adorned with the league colors of orange, black and white. A Select soccer ball occasionally rolled across the floor.
Shaw, an Ybor City developer, is the managing partner of the ownership group. He said the task at hand is to find a temporary home field. The stadium would need to be at least 5,000 seats to meet U.S. Soccer’s requirements for a Division One league.
He said all locations, including in Pinellas County, are under consideration, but, to the surprise of no one, he identified his preferred site.
“It is the goal, it is the dream to bring the team to Ybor City,” Shaw said.
He said there is no budget yet for the stadium nor consideration of how to finance it.
A temporary home, Shaw told the Tampa Bay Times, likely would be used for three to five years before a permanent stadium is ready.
The USL Super League is scheduled to begin play in August 2024 with Tampa Bay one of eight markets identified for inaugural teams. The league said two to four more will be added for the initial season. Expansion franchises joining in 2025 and beyond include Jacksonville and four other cities.
Shaw, Vandervort and Castor all lauded the expansion of professional soccer opportunities for women. The National Women’s Soccer League is the only U.S.-based professional league available for women. Currently, there are 12 professional women’s teams and 100 professional teams for men in the U.S., said Vandervort.
“We want the girls playing soccer today to dream,” said Shaw.
Public interest is expected to be boosted by the FIFA Women’s World Cup competition beginning in July in Australia. Soccer is the fastest-growing major sport in the U.S. and has an estimated 85 million adult followers in this country, according to data from Gallup Sports Poll distributed at the press conference.