Tulsa to field USL PRO franchise in 2015 as league continues its expansion campaign

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High-level professional soccer will return to Tulsa, Okla., for the first time since the Roughnecks played their final NASL season in 1984. The city on Wednesday became the latest to jump aboard the USL PRO expansion bandwagon.

The third-tier league announced Wednesday that a Tulsa franchise will join the league in 2015, joining Sacramento, Oklahoma City – which will field teams in 2014 – and Colorado Springs (2015) as the latest cities to link up with the fledgling league. The Tulsa Drillers minor league baseball team will be the new club’s majority owner. They will play at the Drillers’ stadium, ONEOK Field.

In a Monday report on SI.com that broke news of the Tulsa expansion, writer Brian Straus links USL PRO’s expansion push to the January, 2013 agreement that allows MLS clubs to either field a USL PRO franchise or form a partnership with existing clubs to allow for improved player development.

“USL PRO is thrilled about the addition of a Tulsa franchise that will feature a strong ownership group, proven executive sports management team, and excellent downtown venue all in a market with a history of support for professional soccer,” USL President Tim Holt said in a release.

And Holt is already building up what he hopes will be a budding rivalry between Tulsa and OKC Energy FC.

“In a sport built on rivalries, Tulsa fans will immediately enjoy an intense geographic rivalry with OKC Energy FC on the field, while the two clubs collaborate off the field to grow the sport at all levels throughout the state,” Holt said. “This represents another major step in USL PRO’s plan for stable and strategic growth into key national markets.”

The name of the new team will be determined through a “Name Your Team Contest” in early 2014, and the team will begin taking deposits for season tickets immediately. The playing surface at ONEOK Field will be converted into a soccer pitch with the field running from first base toward the left-field wall. The dirt infield areas will be covered with sod to provide a complete grass surface playing field. Capacity at ONEOK Field is expected to be similar to the 7,833 seats used for baseball events.

“We are very excited to be involved in bringing a high level of professional, outdoor soccer back to the city of Tulsa,” Drillers general manager Mike Melega said in the release. “We feel that Tulsa is a great soccer market, and this return is long overdue. We think the USL PRO structure and its partnership with Major League Soccer provide the city of Tulsa with the best opportunity to have a successful and long-term franchise.”