The seeds for a professional soccer team – a spectacularly named soccer team -- have been planted in the Nevada desert.
United Soccer Leagues announced Thursday that the Las Vegas Mobsters will join the Premier Development League, at the fourth level of the American soccer pyramid, in 2014.
The PDL, which had 64 teams this season, is a proving ground for top college and amateur players. It can serve the same function for clubs intending to establish roots in a particular market before turning professional. Four teams in USL Pro, the national third division now affiliated with MLS, started in the PDL. Among them are minor league heavyweights like the Richmond Kickers and the Charleston Battery.
“Our ultimate goal is to build this team through the USL pyramid, of which the PDL is part, and provide Las Vegas with a professional soccer team,” Mobsters co-owner and CFO Martin Melendrez said.
“This is the first step in establishing a nationally competitive soccer club, and we couldn’t be more excited,” co-owner and GM Geoffrey Hawkins said. “Las Vegas is a great city, yet we are sorely missing high-level sports teams in town.”
Sin City is home to the Las Vegas 51s, the AAA affiliate of the New York Mets, and the Las Vegas Wranglers, an ECHL (equivalent to AA) hockey franchise founded in 2003. There isn’t much else. The NPSL, a competing fourth-tier soccer league that operates with a much lower profile than the PDL, fielded the Las Vegas Stallions in 2013. They played at a high school stadium about five miles northeast of the Strip. But the big stage has been pretty barren. The AFL, CFL, UFL and XFL came and went. Jerry Tarkanian is long gone. Outdoor soccer bet on Vegas in 1977 with the Las Vegas Quicksilvers, but the NASL club lasted just one season before moving to San Diego.
Times certainly have changed, and the city has come up several times in MLS expansion conversations. In 2011, a developer proposed a $1.95 billion, three-stadium complex near the Mandalay Bay that would have included an MLS-ready facility. MLS expressed some interest, but the Nevada legislature killed it off by rejecting a bill that would have funneled new sales tax revenue toward the project.
The Mobsters will start small. They will play next season at UNLV’s Peter Johann Memorial Field, a 2,500-seat, natural grass stadium that houses the Runnin’ Rebels soccer teams. That will work at the PDL level, but the USL expects incoming professional clubs to have a facility that seats around 7,500.
Hawkins and Melendrez didn’t name a coach and didn’t explain the inspiration behind a name that probably will make their team one of the most popular in the league before they kick a ball. The hilariously generic logo, which looks like something pulled from a youth uniform catalog at a sporting goods store, certainly does nothing to evoke the city or nickname and needs definite work. But as Hawkins said, this is just the “first step."