ATLANTIC CITY — The city has had its share of sports teams, but it has never had its own soccer team, until now.
Hoping to fill a void in the city’s sports scene, the Atlantic City Football Club announced Thursday that it will join the National Premier Soccer League as an expansion team in 2018.
“It really felt like the time was right to do something about bringing a team to Atlantic City,” said Andrew Weilgus, ACFC co-owner at a news conference at the Tropicana Atlantic City. “It’s a city that’s welcoming, that’s primed for these type of events, that can host everything from charity games to major contests.”
Weilgus, the research producer for DirectTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket, and fellow co-owner Nicholas Bilotta III, who co-founded Atlantic City Fantasy Sports, hope to bring the community together through ACFC.
“Our goal above all else is to bring something of our own here,” said Bilotta, who lives in Northfield.
“We want our games, as much as humanly possible, to be an event that the community can partake in from the afternoon through the game,” said Weilgus, who lives in the West Atlantic City section of Egg Harbor Township.
Weilgus and Bilotta plan to include food truck festivals, farmers markets, free youth clinics and other activities at ACFC’s games.
The team will play five to seven home games at Stockton University in Galloway Township and will compete in the NPSL Keystone Conference as a semiprofessional team.
The Tropicana will provide housing for the players, but they will not be paid, Weilgus said.
The NPSL is the largest organized men’s soccer league in the United States with 96 teams competing across the country in 2017. Other teams in the Keystone Conference include FC Monmouth, an expansion team in Monmouth County, and New Jersey Copa FC based in Holmdel.
When building the team’s roster of approximately 26 players, Weilgus said there will be an emphasis on local talent with Stockton players and other college players eligible to tryout.
Bilotta said they considered playing home games at the Sandcastle, but it was too costly to renovate. Weilgus added that Atlantic City High School’s artificial turf field was also looked at, but the team wants to play games on grass.
The Tropicana will be the team’s primary sponsor. The casino’s general manager, Steve Callender, said he shares the team owners’ vision for the city and sees the potential soccer has as a growing sport.
“I grew up as a player, my kids were players and my grandchildren are playing now so I love the sport, I’ve been around it a long time,” Callender said. “I think it’s important for Atlantic City to have something they can take pride in as their own and I just thought it was a good idea. I know the sport is growing quickly and I thought it would be helpful.”
Kristian O’Leary will coach the team next season. O’Leary is a former professional soccer player and coach for the Swansea City Association Football Club.
“He’s got incredible experience,” Weilgus said. “He’s played against some of the best in the world.”
Jeremiah White, a former professional soccer player with experience playing across Europe and the Middle East, will be ACFC’s technical director. White will help O’Leary in training the players.
“My hopes for the future are that we build a successful team, we’re able to give Atlantic City good soccer and set the stage to continue to move the team up,” said White, who played for the Ocean City Barons of the United Soccer Leagues Premier Developmental League in 2003.
Each of ACFC’s home games will be broadcast live over WOND radio and a livestream will be available on WOND’s website.
“This has been a lot of work from a lot of people,” Weilgus said. “It’s an insane amount of effort from people all over the place, some people who have no connection to Atlantic City, but really enjoyed the idea of building something special here and giving a community their first team in a long time.”
Tickets for ACFC games will be approximately $11 with an extra dollar going toward the team’s community efforts developing youth programs. The season is scheduled to start in early May and finish in August of 2018.