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United Soccer League promises to bring professional soccer back to Jacksonville

Lead investor Ricky Caplan, right, welcomes Tim Tebow, center, to the ownership group of the USL Championship club that will kick off in Jacksonville in 2025. Longtime soccer executive Steve Livingstone, right, is part of the ownership grou.jpg
Will Brown
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Lead investor Ricky Caplan, right, welcomes Tim Tebow, center, to the ownership group of the USL Championship club that will start playing in Jacksonville in 2025. Longtime soccer executive Steve Livingstone, left, is part of the ownership group. | Will Brown, WJCT News

Ricky Caplin can only hope the fourth time is the charm for pro soccer in Jacksonville.

Tuesday, Caplin announced Jacksonville will field a USL Championship team in the River City beginning in the 2025 season.

Caplin, of Jacksonville, is the lead investor in the yet-to-be-named team, along with a group that includes former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, as well as Tony Allegretti and Steve Livingstone.

“Our community is made up of a diverse and international citizenry, which has a deep appreciation for the game of soccer,” Caplin said in a statement. “I’m thrilled to be partnering with Tim, Steve and Tony to bring the USL to our wonderful First Coast community and we look forward to identifying the right location, facilities and partners to make this dream a reality.”

The USL has 151 men’s teams playing in three divisions: Championship, League One and League Two. The Championship is the highest of those divisions and includes a blend of emerging professional and experienced international-quality players, as well as a handful on the downside of their careers in bigger leagues like Major League Soccer.

Florida currently has two USL clubs: The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Miami FC. When the Jacksonville club takes the pitch, it will be the state’s third USL team and fifth professional club.

The league also plans to expand into New Orleans and Des Moines, Iowa, prior to launching the Jacksonville team.

The lack of a stadium has hindered other attempts at professional soccer here.

The Jacksonville Tea Men competed from 1980 to 1984, playing in three different leagues in its short run in the River City. The Cyclones played for two years in the late 1990s. The Jacksonville Armada began play in 2015 in the rebranded North American Soccer League, but that league imploded after it challenged the United States Soccer Federation.

Livingstone was the Armada’s first club president and helped that club get off the ground before his 2016 departure.

USL officials are confident that with the sport’s growth over the last two decades and Jacksonville’s being one of the top 50 markets for television coverage of the U.S. Men’s National Team and Women’s National Team matches will translate into interest in the expansion USL club.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for the USL and Northeast Florida,” said USL Chief Operating Officer and chief real estate officer Justin Papadakis in a statement. “We know the incredible sports fans of Jacksonville and the First Coast will really support their pro soccer club and make it their own.”

Correction: This story originally said Jacksonville had two previous soccer teams. We omitted the Cyclones. We apologize for the error.