JAMES CITY — The Virginia Legacy Soccer Club announced last week that it will join the National Premier Soccer League as an expansion team. Some time this fall the club will invite fans to pick a team nickname and, who knows, can a furry Muppet-like mascot to fire up younger fans be far behind?
Bobby O'Brien, Legacy's executive director, said the club is in the process of developing marketing ideas to draw fans for the NPSL debut in May 2014. Once there, he believes they'll like what they see.
"This is the fourth tier of soccer in the United States," O'Brien said. "It's very competitive."
The NPSL is a semi-pro league that William and Mary coaching legend and Legacy board member Al Albert says is comparable to Division I collegiate soccer. Two Major League Soccer franchises, D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls, field under-23 feeder teams in the more than 60-team NPSL.
Legacy will compete from May to July in the Mid-Atlantic Conference, which includes D.C. United U-23 as well as two teams from the Richmond area, one from Raleigh, N.C., and another from Myrtle Beach, S.C. Legacy will be a mixture of area college and high school players, as well as guys such as O'Brien, who graduated from Virginia Tech several years ago but is still in playing shape.
"This team fills a void that's been missing since the Legacy's Premier Development League (PDL) team (disbanded) a few years ago," Albert said. "This gives younger (high school) players a chance to train against older players, which is something they don't get enough of in this country.
"Usually they have to train against players their age. Older players in this country need more games, and this gives them 12 to 15 more each summer."
Legacy played in the PDL from 2002-09 and, at its peak, drew more than 600 fans per game. Albert and O'Brien see area colleges like William and Mary and Christopher Newport University providing a significant core of players to the team, which should help draw fans. Players from other colleges, college grads and high school players will round out the 24-26 man roster.
"It's not a prerequisite that you played for the Legacy, but we want players to have some kind of tie to the area," O'Brien said.
Two of the area's best high school soccer players of 2013 said they plan to play for Legacy in the NPSL.
"This is going to be pretty high quality soccer," said Lafayette's Emery Trott, who will play for Haverford College in Pennsylvania in the fall. "College soccer is much faster than high school and this is great for getting ready for that."
Tabb's Riley Maw, who's headed for W&M, said, "This is a great opportunity (for area fans) to see a kind of professional aspect of soccer. This is almost like an elite college soccer program.
"It's the next step for the club itself, to have a team at the third or fourth highest level of soccer. It's a good way to give back to the Legacy, and the kids who play for the Legacy have a place where they can go with the club."
O'Brien said giving younger Legacy players something to shoot for is a big reason the club joined the NPSL. He said it's not certain yet where the team will play.
Wanner Stadium in James City County, which O'Brien calls a fine facility, is a possible destination. But Legacy might choose Cooley Field in Williamsburg or CNU on occasion, he said, because those cozier venues put the fans closer to the field where they can create a more exciting atmosphere.
"Virginia Legacy is excited to bring the professional soccer experience to thousands of players, parents fans and soccer supporters in this region," O'Brien said. "We want to make this a fan-friendly atmosphere with a high quality of soccer.
"The NPSL is the same quality of soccer as the PDL, if not better, but is more cost effective for us."