Tulsa gets a USL franchise

USLPRThe United Soccer League (USL PRO) announced on Wednesday that they have awarded Tulsa an expansion franchise to begin play in 2015.

The Tulsa Drillers of Minor League Baseball will be majority owners of the new team with Prodigal LLC holding a minority interest in the squad.

“USL PRO is thrilled about the addition of a Tulsa franchise that will feature a strong ownership group, proven executive sports management team, and excellent downtown venue all in a market with a history of support for professional soccer,” USL President Tim Holt said. “In a sport built on rivalries, Tulsa fans will immediately enjoy an intense geographic rivalry with OKC Energy FC on the field, while the two clubs collaborate off the field to grow the sport at all levels throughout the state.  This represents another major step in USL PRO’s plan for stable and strategic growth into key national markets.”

The Tulsa area currently has two soccer clubs in the professional and semi-professional ranks.  The Tulsa Athletics play at Drillers Stadium in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and that league is generally considered to be semi-professional as the teams feature both professional players and college level players.  The Tulsa Revolution just began their inaugural season in the Professional Arena Soccer League and they play indoors at the Cox Business Center and are considered professionals.

The team is slated to play its home games at ONEOK Field, the home of the Tulsa Drillers of the Texas League in baseball.  The playing surface will be converted into a soccer pitch with the field running from first base toward the left field wall.  The dirt infield areas will be covered with sod to provide a complete grass surface playing field. Capacity at ONEOK Field is expected to be similar to the 7,833 seats used for baseball events.

USL PRO is the strongest, most sophisticated and most experienced North American men’s professional soccer league below and in support of MLS, both on and off the field. Focused on franchise stability and longevity, USL PRO featured 13 teams in 2013 with more than half boasting a decade or more of operational experience, and the distinction of being the longest standing pro league affiliate member of the US Soccer Federation with more than two decades of successful operations.

“We are very excited to be involved in bringing a high level of professional, outdoor soccer back to the city of Tulsa,” Drillers General Manager Mike Melega said.  “We feel that Tulsa is a great soccer market, and this return is long overdue.

“We think the USL PRO structure and its partnership with Major League Soccer provide the city of Tulsa with the best opportunity to have a successful and long-term franchise,” Melega said.  “Over the years, Major League Soccer has looked closely at successful USL teams when selecting expansion cities, such as with Orlando moving to MLS in 2015.  If the fans of Tulsa support the return of professional, outdoor soccer to the city, we feel that Tulsa has an excellent chance to move onto the radar of Major League Soccer as they consider future expansion cities.”

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Tulsa Roughnecks of the North American Soccer League were one of the most successful franchises in league history, drawing an average of 20,000 fans to Skelly Stadium, now known as Chapman Stadium on the TU campus.  The team won the Soccer Bowl, the NASL league title, in 1983.

The Roughnecks produced several players now regarded as legends in the Tulsa soccer world, like Charlie Mitchell, who was a player in the teams first season and returned as coach in 1980 and 1981.  Other legendary players included Victor Moreland, Billy Caskey and Alan Woodward.

Social networking was alive with the rumor that the new team would sport the Roughnecks name but it turns out not to be the case.  That issue is muddied by the fact that the Roughnecks name was registered as a trademark by Prodigal Sports in September.  According to the official release USL Tulsa will conduct a “name the team” contest among the fans and the team will be accepting deposits for season tickets immediately.

The Tulsa franchise will be brought on board along with Colorado Springs in 2015.  The Oklahoma City Energy FC and the Sacramento Republic FC will begin play next year.  According to the website the USL season extends from March through September.