|Updated: 12/18/2013 5:21 pm
||Published: 12/18/2013 1:57 pm
The Tulsa Drillers announced Wednesday they have purchased majority interest in an expansion franchise in the USL PRO League.
The Tulsa team will begin play in the spring of 2015 with home games slated to be played at ONEOK Field.
The Drillers will be majority owners of the new team with Prodigal LLC holding a minority interest in the squad. The USL PRO team will mark the highest level of professional soccer in the city since the Tulsa Roughnecks played their final season in the old North American Soccer League in 1984.
"We are very excited to be involved in bringing a high level of professional, outdoor soccer back to the city of Tulsa," said Mike Melega. "We feel that Tulsa is a great soccer market, and this return is long overdue."
The new team will share ONEOK Field with the Drillers. The USL PRO regular season runs from late March through mid-August. Playoff games are held during the month of September. In 2014, the USL Pro regular season will consist of 28 matches with each team playing 14 home matches.
There is also the chance that Tulsa could host exhibitions and U.S. Open Cup games as well.
The USL PRO league began a partnership with Major League Soccer, the top professional soccer league in North America, prior to the 2013 season. Through the partnership, some USL PRO teams entered into affiliation agreements where the MLS team provided players to their clubs, similar to Major League Baseball's player development partnership with Minor League Baseball.
Officials said is anticipated the Tulsa club will begin an affiliation with a MLS team prior to its inaugural season in 2015.
"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," said Melega. "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."
"Prodigal is pleased to partner with the Drillers to bring professional soccer back to Tulsa," said Prodigal LLC owner Bob Funk Jr. "The fact that five of the last six MLS expansion teams have come from USL PRO showcases the fact that the USL PRO model is the best way for teams to experience success. We also look forward to playing games against and fostering a Turnpike Rivalry with our in-state neighbors."
The playing surface at ONEOK Field will be converted into a soccer pitch prior to each game 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.
All seating and hospitality areas currently at the stadium will be used for the soccer matches. Capacity at ONEOK Field will be similar to the 7,833 figure used for baseball events.
The actual name for the new Tulsa team has not been determined. Plans are for a Name Your Team Contest in early 2014 with fans submitting their suggestions for the official name.