In Monday's State of the League address, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said that if the league is going to expand to the Southeast, better stadiums are a must.
By Wednesday afternoon, plans for a soccer specific stadium "in the heart of Tampa" — where the South begins or ends, depending upon what direction you're heading — backed by a slew of soccer folks and, apparently, the municipality itself, had suddenly come to light.
According to report at The Offside Rules, a group called VSI Flames, Inc., in conjunction with PRI Development Partners LLC, unveiled their vision of a 28,888 seat (expandable to 40,000) soccer-specific stadium that they intend to build in downtown Tampa by 2016. The location reportedly would be near the Ice Palace, where the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning play, and the available land is owned by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. Vinik is also a board member of Liverpool FC.
In the interim, there are plans for a modular stadium and a USL Pro expansion franchise to begin play in 2013. The team would become the second lower-flight franchise in the Tampa Bay area, as the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL just finished their third season across the bay in St. Petersburg.
The project website, with the headine "MLS Franchise in Tampa," is unambiguous about the overall intent:
"It is the stated intention of VSI to deliver and provide the soccer facility projects as detailed throughout this website in order to achieve its long term goal of securing an MLS franchise in the heart of the Tampa Bay community and in doing so will firmly put Tampa back on the world soccer map."
The list of VSI investors is impressive, including former English Premier League players Mark Hughes and Ian Wright, as well as current players Shawn Wright-Phillips, Mikel John Obi, Stephen Warnock and Danny Collins.
VSI's original foray into US soccer came back in 2011, when they partnered with Florida club West Florida FC Flames to create a youth academy. They also have an academy in Portugal.
Calls to VSI and PRI were not returned at the time of publication.
As you could expect, I'm super pumped about this. I would love to see pro soccer in Tampa, ran by functioning owners unlike the Mutiny. Also note the NASL champion Rowdies aren't the team pushing this. I think the best move IF this gets built is hook up with the Rowdies and have a community effort. Also the USL is based in Tampa, so that explains the team.