Toledo should respond positively to an outreach from the United Soccer League about establishing a minor league soccer team here in 2019.
The United Soccer League has taken an interest in the city for its third-division league, and executives from the Tampa-based league held meetings in Toledo and toured the city on two occasions.
Greater Toledo has shown itself to be an enthusiastic supporter of minor league baseball and hockey. The area has an active soccer community, with multiple travel teams for youth based here, competitive high school soccer programs, and enthusiastic fans.
The league executives didn’t try to meet with the Lucas County commissioners, who, having built both Fifth Third Field and Huntington Center, would have to be involved in building a soccer venue. Commission President Pete Gerken, however, said, “we’re open to any approach to have a discussion.”
A location for home games would be the biggest concern for a potential ownership group, though the league does not mandate that a club build a stadium. For now, the U.T. Glass Bowl seems like the best venue.
The second challenge would be generating a regular attendance. The USL team Cincinnati FC has been averaging almost 24,000 fans per game. The lowest attendance shown for USL’s 33 teams is New York Red Bulls II, who play in Harrison, N.J., with an average of 719 fans per game. The average is just under 5,000. Detroit City FC, which is a Division 4 team — to USL’s Division 2 teams — averages 5,300 fans per home game. Here in Toledo, the Mud Hens and the Walleye each average around 7,000 fans per home game.
The new USL Division 3 would presumably expect lower per-game attendance than its existing 2nd Division teams. For that, Toledo might be a good fit.
There have been past attempts at minor league soccer, as recounted by sports writer Nicholas Piotrowicz in a two-day series that ran in The Blade on May 28 and May 29, but none with a league as big as the United Soccer League.
At present, the Toledo Villa FC plays in the United Premier Soccer League and hopes to be invited into the USL.
Soccer is a sport with increasing popularity. A professional soccer team would add significantly to the list of attractions Toledo has to offer employers and families looking to settle here.
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