As the Florida Tropics SC rejoice in their championship title, the team also looks forward to major plans for an outdoor stadium in Lakeland.
When the local Tropics soccer club decided to field a second outdoor team this summer, they never could have imagined the end result.
But 18 wins later – the team didn’t lose a game and only trailed twice all season – the Tropics SC became national champions of the United Premier Soccer League. Trailing by two goals with less than 10 minutes to play, Keisuke Ohata scored in the 83rd minute to set the stage for a brilliant goal by Victor Parreiras in stoppage time to tie Murcielagos SLC, out of Utah, before going on to win the crown on penalty kicks.
“It was an unbelievable finish to an unbelievable season,” said Tropics CEO Dr. Panos Iakovidis, who along with other front office members and fans made their way to Weatherford, Texas, for the UPSL’s national Final Four tournament in late July.
“Our goal was to be competitive and to give Lakeland and Polk County something to be proud of. We want Tropics soccer to be something that makes our area a great place to live, to help improve our quality of life,” added Iakovidis, who is chairman and president of Bond Clinic. “To win a championship was a great reward to all our loyal fans and business partners who are sharing the dream of bringing a fully professional outdoor team here.”
That was actually one of the reasons the Tropics decided to field a second developmental outdoor team this summer. The Lakeland Tropics, who play in USL League Two and hosted a 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game this past May, just finished their third season of action at Bryant Stadium. Having two teams creates a larger pool of potential players should the city be awarded a pro franchise.
Lakeland has already unveiled plans that call for a 3,500-seat outdoor soccer stadium adjacent to the RP Funding Center, where the Florida Tropics, the organization’s flagship team, will start its fourth season in the Major Arena Soccer League late this fall.
The outdoor stadium would not only host a fully professional Tropics team, it would likely host an existing Major League Soccer team for its spring training (the Tropics have a verbal agreement with a current MLS side to come here if the stadium becomes a reality), along with other sporting events like rugby matches or lacrosse games. Concerts could also be held there, part of the city’s dream of a revitalized and reimagined downtown entertainment district.
“We’ve seen the dramatic growth of soccer all over the country. Now it’s our turn,” Dr. Iakovidis said. “This title is something to be very proud of, but also a stepping stone to bigger and better things. We’ve invested heavily this off-season to bring in some of the top professional indoor soccer talent in the country, so we plan to continue the momentum this outdoor championship will provide.”