Starting next year, Louisville will host a professional soccer club in the Major League Soccer-affiliated United Soccer League PRO division.
Owners of the Louisville City Football Club announced Wednesday that the team will be relocating from Orlando before the 2015 season begins. USL PRO is a second-tier affiliate of Major League Soccer, comparable to a AA minor league baseball team.
The team is based this season in Orlando, which is getting an MLS franchise next season.
Wayne Estopinal, a local architect and minority owner of the Orlando team, said the team will be a good addition to Louisville’s sports community and, if successful, will set them up to be included in future discussions about bringing an MLS team to town.
Orlando City Soccer Club has been the most successful team in the USL PRO division in the past five years, according to a statement released by the team’s ownership. It's the defending league champion and is in first place in the division.
The team "is not chopped liver," Estopinal said Wednesday during the news conference.
The Louisville City FC will be affiliate with Orlando MLS expansion team, and the teams have signed a five-year deal that includes sharing developmental players, Estopinal said.
“I think this will be a tremendous mark for the entire soccer community and take us all to another level,” he said before Wednesday's announcement.
He added that he hopes to have support from Metro Government to begin developing a soccer-specific stadium by 2018. For this to happen, though, the team must meet attendance requirements for the first few seasons.
The team's ownership raised concerns last week about whether the city's requirements can be met because of schedule conflicts with the Louisville Bats. The conflicts force Louisville City to play as many as a third of its games on weeknights, which could slash attendance numbers, Estopinal said.
Despite the concerns, Estopinal said he is confident the “concept” of pro soccer in Louisville can work in the first few seasons. But come 2018, “we really need to be in a soccer specific stadium.”
Taylor Sorrells, the president of the fan support group The Louisville Coopers, said the entire group is excited to have an “actual team” to root for, rather than an idea.
“Creating a great gameday experience is really going to be priority 1-A for us,” he said.
The USL PRO division is a 14-team division with plans to add three expansion teams for the 2015 season. Season tickets for the Louisville City FC are on sale and can be found here.