I TRAVEL for soccer. I’ve boarded trains and busses and driven to places like DC, Atlanta and Orlando to watch quality players kick a ball from end to end, an artful physicality my football and basketball loving friends call "boring."
I call it mesmerizing.
I won’t have to travel far on May 10 when Savannah hosts its highest-level soccer match ever. The Charleston Battery, a USL team (second tier) will come to play South Georgia Tormenta, a PDL team (fourth tier). You don’t know these names?
Well, let me introduce you. The guys in Charleston Battery are pros, as in, they make a living at it. A few thousand dollars a month, from what I’ve read. Not bad. But no one in the seats cares about dollars during a match. It’s about the quality of play.
It’s exciting. If you don’t live near an MLS (first tier) team, USL is the next best thing. The guys in South Georgia Tormenta are hungry for that kind of life. One of their players, Savannah’s very own Nico Rittmeyer, made the PDL-USL leap.
In fact, the homegrown midfielder, son of local community advocate Miriam Rittmeyer, signed from Tormenta to Battery a few months ago.
About 80 percent of MLS draft picks last year came from the PDL. These players are looking up. Many are getting there.
“Our mission statement is ‘Pros Start Here,’” says Tormenta President Darin Van Tassell. “It’s beyond the college level. It’s those guys that are climbing the professional ladder.” They’re post-collegiate. And I ask you to remember your own post-collegiate scramble.
For me, it was living in a bad way, waiting for a shot. “We’re going to make sure that we’re doing our part in helping these young men develop,” says Tormenta coach John Miglarese. “But at the same time, we’re going to try to win. And we’re planning to win.”
Last year, Tormenta’s first season, they came within a few points of the playoffs. Still, the PDL named them the league’s “Franchise of the Year,” in part because of what they do off the field.
I’ve seen them. Their matches, in Statesboro, are rock solid nights.
They know what the Bananas know. They know what MLS teams know.
“What we do is the same thing the Atlanta Braves do,” Van Tassell says. “We’re selling entertainment.” Their debut season led their conference in attendance: 20,000 butts in seats.
And honestly, when I went last year, I wasn’t expecting to see about 2,000 people out, on a hot and buggy night, to watch PDL soccer.
Many fans, like me, drove from Savannah. Everything from play to concessions was well-executed and worth it.
“Fans have been yearning for teams playing at top levels,” Van Tassell says. And with soccer growing in this country, gaining wider appeal and market share, that yearning is moving down the tiers of soccer. That’s why I’m excited.
“The game is growing faster than anyone can really catch up,” says Miglarese. “And you can tell with MLS and their explosion.” We now have MLS in Atlanta and Orlando. (I’m a native Central Floridian, so picking sides in those matches won’t be a problem for me.)
“It’s really been driven by the youth,” Van Tassell says. “This is a grassroots movement.” To that end, Tormenta has a youth academy, partnering with the former Savannah Storm Academy. Savannah United, a wholly separate group, also deserves mention here.
The area’s largest youth academy, Savannah United fuels this fire, too. So get a ticket to the Daffin Park match. See what it’s about.
And maybe you’ll start traveling, too, at least to Statesboro, home of Tormenta, taking South Georgia... by storm.