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The Pitch: Building support for VB United, hoping pro soccer can grow in Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach United’s Gui Leme, seen at center within the frame, advances the ball toward the North Carolina Fusion U23 net on Saturday, June 15. Leme, a midfielder and forward, hails from Brazil, and he is among a number of young international players. He said he hopes more fans will come see the team play at home. “We want to get all the support we can get,” Leme said. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE

VIRGINIA BEACH — In its first season, Virginia Beach United, a new soccer club playing in the United Soccer League’s League Two has brought a high level of play to the Virginia Beach Sportsplex, and the team hopes to strengthen its support in the community and among fans while paving the way for bigger things.

The team plays at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex on Landstown Centre Way in the Princess Anne Commons area. The Sportsplex was the first facility of its kind in the U.S. built for soccer, which it hosts a lot of, but there had not been a USL presence here for five years prior to VB United’s formation.

Two major local soccer clubs, Beach FC and Virginia Rush joined forces to establish VB United as an expansion team in USL’s League Two, formerly the Premier Development League. League Two bills itself as a leader in developing pro talent in North American soccer. Virginia Beach United is coached by Matt Ellinger, head coach of the men’s soccer program at Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia.

Players said that summer season, the ability to play amid great competition and possibly get noticed is part of the appeal of playing here.

Oliver Padilla, a 19-year-old Old Dominion University junior, plays keeper for Virginia Beach United. The league is fun, he said.

“I like it,” he said. “The competition is high.”

It is helping him strengthen skills and stay in shape.

“It gives you exposure,” said Sam Pollard, 20, of England who plays defense and midfield.

“I’d love to play here in America,” he said, adding that his dream is to play the game for a living.

Virginia Beach United fans, including 13-year-old Andrew Campbell, waving a flag, cheer on the team during a home game at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex on Saturday, June 15. Home games are geared toward families, fitting for a team meant to inspire younger local soccer players. Campbell’s family hosts one of the Virginia Beach United players, Matthew Ridley, and Campbell has his own soccer goals, too. “I want to play pro — 100 percent,” he said. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

Fritz Peter, 22, of Germany said the league is a good way for players to maintain skills and compete. Also, he added, it was a chance to be a part of a new team, and an opportunity to see “where this place goes.”

The 14-game season runs from May to July, and features top soccer talent who can play at a high level while maintaining their college eligibility. And, hopefully, USL play is a stepping stone to higher levels.

Virginia Beach United is returning from a road trip, and two home games at the Sportsplex are scheduled for July – on Monday, July 1, against the Tri-Cities Otters and on Tuesday, July 9, against Wake FC. Games are at 7 p.m.

Dennis McEwen, head of sales and marketing for the Sportsplex and Virginia Beach United, said he hopes locals will come out to support the new team as it closes its inaugural season.

He added that the team drawing bigger crowds can help build upon the exposure of Virginia United to local soccer fans. The team has averaged about 850 people per game at home, he said.

“We’d love to get as many people as possible come out,” he said, adding that drawing 2,000 would “mean we’re doing really, really well.”

Players echoed that goal.

“Hopefully, we will see more fans at games,” Padilla said. “Without them, none of this is possible.”

“We want to get all the support we can get,” added midfielder and forward Gui Leme, 22, from Brazil.

Eventually, the hope is that this team will evolve into bigger opportunities for professional soccer in Virginia Beach. 

Major League Soccer might be down the line if there is clear support for professional soccer here, McEwan said.

“There’s no reason to think we couldn’t support one here,” McEwan said. “Soccer may be the best opportunity for Virginia Beach to get a major league franchise.”

Sam Pollard, who plays defense and midfield for Virginia Beach United, moves the ball on Saturday, June 15. The 20 year old hails from England, and he said playing in Virginia Beach gives him an opportunity to see how the game is played in the U.S. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]


Visit vabeachunited.com online for more information about Virginia Beach United, including information about tickets for the final home games of the season. Find the team on Facebook by searching @vabeachunited, which also is the team’s handle on Twitter. The next scheduled home game is at 7 p.m., Monday, July 1, against the Tri-Cities Otters.


© 2019 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

The Independent News

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