Here & Now: Pro Soccer Comes to Naples
Kick-starting a team called adrenaline.
Ok, I’m not exactly Southwest Florida’s most savvy sports fan. I tend to get my jump shots mixed up with my chip shots, and I can count on one hand (excluding the thumb and pinkie) the times my adrenaline spiked over anything involving sports since eighth grade football god Dean Wilkes gave me his letter sweater.
There was the night I got to dance with sizzlin’-hot—in every way—French/Cameroonian tennis star Yannick Noah, of Davis Cup and French Open Fame, at a Naples ATP reception.
Then, a decade or so later, there was his son Joakim, sizzlin’-hot as a basketball phenom. Joakim Noah earned Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, driving Florida Gator fans into a frenzy with UF’s first of two consecutive NCAA basketball championships.
My sports adrenaline spiked most recently last spring, of course, when the spectacularly hot, record-breaking Sweet Sixteen FGCU Eagles transformed Fort Myers into Dunk City, USA.
Fast forward to today, and my adrenaline—yours, too—could be spiking off the charts all summer long. That’s Adrenaline with a capital “A,” as in Southwest Florida Adrenaline, the first sports franchise in Collier County history, playing in a premier development league of the United Soccer Leagues. That’s PDL/USL in soccer-speak.
That spiking’s not strictly because these new boys of summer are heart-pumping gorgeous in their blood-red jerseys with the cardiac graph on their chests (I’m just sayin’), but also because the franchise has already lured top amateur players from soccer-hotbed Florida and around the world. The league can afford to be picky. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play in beautiful Southwest Florida? At press time, Adrenaline’s General Manager Teresa Howe says the new mascot is still in design stage.
I’m suggesting a sizzlin’-hot doctor wearing a lab coat, blood-red soccer cleats and a stethoscope.
But back to the sports thing. For my edification, Teresa explains that while the structures of hockey and soccer leagues differ, Southwest Florida Adrenaline—which is a farm team for pro soccer—is comparable in professional stature to our home hockey team, the Florida Everblades. Unlike hockey, however, the USL allows college athletes to play during the summer and keep their college eligibility— or they could also accept a pro position.
Most, but not all, players on the inaugural Adrenaline roster are currently NCAA college soccer players. The youngest—Quade Marinell, DeJean Charlton, Alex Luchetta and Ritchy Absolu—are graduating this month from local high schools and headed to college. The elder statesman, at 32, is Damien Vincent, a married father of two.
Howe says that USL rules allow a league up to eight international players, and the Adrenaline definitely plans to max out its limit. It might be the newest member of the USL, but it has supersized ambitions. Right now the team home field is Barron Collier High School, but plans are already being hatched for mega indoor and outdoor soccer and multi-sport facilities that will accommodate up to 5,000 fans.
Don’t raise your eyebrows, people. Have we not learned anything from March Madness? Never, ever underestimate the power of Southwest Florida’s athletes, coaches and fans.
PSSST: WANNA HOST A FUTURE WORLD-FAMOUS SOCCER STAR?
THE ADRENALINE IS RECRUITING COLLEGE and international players worldwide to play here each summer. They’ve acquired some townhomes in Estero to accommodate most of them during the soccer season, and then provide housing for FGCU students during the school year. Meanwhile, they’ll need families to host these players with room and board from May 1 to July 31. Imagine your budding young athletes bringing their new hotshot big brother to school for show-and-tell, not to mention your elevated social standing and “family” contacts for your next trip abroad.
Host families also get complimentary tickets to USL/PDL home games and discounts on Adrenaline merchandise, as well as camps and clinics all year. Apply online at www.swfl adrenaline.com or email Teresa Howe directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ADRENALINE BEHIND THE ADRENALINE
THE OWNER/PRESIDENT OF THE CLUB IS Neapolitan Jeff Butzke, a graduate of Fordham University. Butzke is a political strategist whose company, Advantage Inc., has consulted and managed more than 200 political campaigns over the last 35 years. He has been involved in team administration and coaching since 1995. Jeff and his wife, Wendy Wilson, are the parents of 20-year-old David Butzke, who, with his cousin Josh Butzke, is an inaugural Adrenaline team member.
Tickets are just $5. A $20 family pass gets you four tickets, four slices of pizza and four drinks. The club gives out a $1,000 scholarship at every game. And you can pick up a blood-red Adrenaline towel for $4. Tickets and info: swfladrenaline.com; (239) 218-5673.