LAND O’ LAKES — As youth soccer continues to grow, many new clubs have formed and flourished. One of the older clubs, Central Pasco United Soccer Association, began seeing a decline in membership, even after 35 years of existence, and was down to 200 players in 2010.
To turn the program around, executive director Mark Rodrigues was hired to retain existing players, then recruit additional players and coaches. The decision has been successful and player membership is up to more than 800.
“When I first arrived, many parents of the elite (better) players felt their child had a better chance of getting a college scholarship if they played in Hillsborough or Pinellas counties,” said Rodrigues, 54. “To counter the exodus and attract players from other clubs in Pasco County and neighboring counties, we have hired 16 top-level coaches, rebranded and focused on marketing to get our story heard.”
Last year, CPUSA changed its name to the Greater Tampa Bay Football Club. In addition, Rodrigues developed a three-tier system of play. For beginners and players who choose not to play competitively, there is a Recreation League. The 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds who demonstrate a higher skill level compete in the Academy League. The top-level players get promoted to the Competitive League.
“Regardless of level, each player is taught the fundamentals and encouraged to play to their potential,” said Rodrigues, a British Guinea native.
The club meets four nights a week and Saturday mornings at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Center.
Earlier this year, Rodrigues began a new program to introduce 3- and 4-year olds to soccer. Called “First Touch,” it gives youngsters an opportunity to kick the ball and learn the social aspects of the game.
Each summer, a boys and girls team travels to a foreign country. This summer, the girls will play in Portugal and the boys will be in Chelsea, England.
Last year, one team made it to the final four in the State Cup. This year, Rodrigues expects four teams to make it to the final four.
“Our goal is to be the best club team in the greater Tampa Bay area,” Rodrigues said. “In an ideal world, all of the clubs in Pasco County would combine into one. Then, parents and players from nearby counties would beat down our doors to play here. We would have the best talent in the state of Florida.”