Tropics will play at Bryant Stadium; Dr. Panagiotis Iakovidis is majority owner

by Brian Ackley

When the Lakeland Tropics take to the field in May as one of the newest teams in the USL Premier Development League, they will do so at historic Bryant Stadium.

In addition, the Tropics announced that Dr. Panagiotis Iakovidis, President and CEO of Bond Clinic, has become the majority owner of the team, as well as the Florida Tropics of the Major Arena Soccer League which concludes its first regular season this month.

“I'm very honored to be part of this ownership group, a unique group that has many years of experience in the soccer arena,” Dr. Iakovidis said today at a press conference at Bryant Stadium. “Polk County is my hometown, I was born in Greece, but Polk County is home. I hope my involvement will help make the Tropics an important part of the community for many, many years to come, and to serve the community in multiple ways.”

Last fall, Bond Clinic broke ground on its ninth campus location which will triple the clinic's Urgent Care Center. The $8.2 million three-story facility is considered one of the biggest construction investments in downtown Winter Haven in 40 years.

Currently, the Bond Clinic serves over 1,500 patients a day in Winter Haven, Davenport, Lake Wales and Sebring. Bond Clinic is a professional association made up of over 70 providers encompassing 25 specialties. Founded in 1948, it was one of the first businesses in downtown Winter Haven. Dr. Iakovidis, a thoracic and vascular surgeon, has been CEO since 2009.

Florida Tropics founder Andrew Haines and COO Chris Economides will continue to serve in co-ownership roles.

“We're here to help to continue to build something strong in Polk County,” Haines said. “With Dr. Iakovidis' passion for the game, you're going to see a lot of positive things as we take it to the next level.”

Added Economides: “With his vision and our experience, I foresee nothing but really, really good things for this franchise. I can't say enough about his commitment to the franchise and soccer in Polk County.”

The team will play a 14-game schedule – seven at Bryant Stadium and seven on the road – which should be released in the next two weeks. The season runs from mid May to July.

Bryant Stadium opened in 1941, and is home to the Lakeland Dreadnaughts, one of the most successful high school football teams in Florida. The stadium has artificial turf, a three-tiered press box, Jumbotron scoreboard and seats approximately 8,000 fans.

Also announced Tuesday was the appointment of Florida Tropics defender Anthony Arico as the franchise's new Camps Director. The team will be hosting a number of special youth camps in Central Florida later this spring and summer, with more details released in coming weeks at the team's new website, www.lakelandtropics.com.

In January, the USL was granted second division status by the United States Soccer Federation. The Premier Development League is preparing for its 23rd season, and all signs point to 2017 being another step forward for the league.

“The league enjoyed a highly successful year of operation, building upon a successful rebrand at the 2015 Winter Summit with elevated standards, a high level of play on the field and the commitment to quality operations,” PDL Director Todd Eason said. “We continue to focus on adding franchises with strong ownership groups that strive to help develop college-aged players on their path to the pros but also have high quality at the operational level and are involved in their surrounding community.”

The 2016 PDL campaign saw 67 teams across four conferences – Southern, Eastern, Central and Western – compete across North America, with 12 new teams joining the league before the start of the season.

Last year's Southern Division, which the Lakeland Tropics will join, included The Villages SC, South Florida Surf, FC Miami City, SIMA Aguilas, Weston FC, IMG Academy Bradenton and the Palm Beach Suns FC in 2016.

A ninth team, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who joined the Division II United Soccer League in October, have also been awarded a Premier Development League franchise for the 2017 season. The Tampa Bay Rowdies U23 will compete in the Southeast Division.

The PDL features 14 teams affiliated with USL or Major League Soccer clubs. The PDL has proven to be an important stepping-stone for top professionals now playing throughout the world, with nearly 70 percent of all MLS selections since 2010 having PDL experience. The PDL provides elite collegiate players the opportunity to taste a higher level of competition while maintaining their eligibility. In addition to league play, PDL teams compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as various exhibitions.