Already celebrated for its rich history, glorious beaches, and thrilling night-life, the city of Virginia Beach is giving locals and tourists something else to look forward to this summer - the Virginia Beach Piranhas.
Founded in 2007, the Piranhas have represented Virginia Beach in the Premier Development League under the umbrella of the United Soccer Leagues. The Piranhas play in the South Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference with ferocity worthy of their namesake.
“Virginia Beach is a vacation destination that attracts top players that want to play at the Sportsplex,” says the team’s General Manager Jim Gooley.
As if the sand, surf and beach lifestyle wasn’t enough to draw players from all corners of the globe, the home field seals the deal. Like their sister team, who play in the USL W-League, the men call the Virginia Beach Sportsplex their home. Having the distinction of being the first soccer-specific stadium built from the ground up in the United States, the Sportsplex is a wonderful place for soccer fans to take in a game.
“I moved to the area at the right time,” says Evan Roberts, a Norfolk SharX fan and now, Piranhas season ticket holder, who relocated to Virginia Beach in August. “Professional sports –especially soccer, both indoor and outdoor—definitely has a place in Hampton Roads.”
This was showcased as 2011-2012 saw the inaugural season of the Norfolk SharX, the area’s first Major Indoor Soccer League team. That team whipped the Hampton Roads soccer enthusiasts and uninitiated alike into a frenzy that has yet to die down. Now, the Virginia Beach Piranhas are eager to take the pitch and keep the momentum going as the start of their season draws closer.
Veteran Piranha player Robert Acosta is up to the task. “The underlying theme is to give the Hampton Roads area an outdoor team to be excited about."
Perhaps no one is more excited for this season than the team’s coach Cesar Rizzo. Fresh off the inaugural season as goalkeeping coach for the Norfolk SharX, Rizzo enters his second year as head coach of the Piranhas. And, as is the desire of every coach, he expects a better season than last year, one he feels served as a learning curve.
"Last year gave us a lot of lessons for the PDL season," said Rizzo. "I feel I’m able to perform better as a coach and help the players more on the field."
Acosta agrees. "It is going to be a positive year for the Piranhas. Coach Rizzo got a good taste of the league last year and now has a better foundation on which to establish this year’s squad."
And establish a squad he has, saying the team is more prepared, committed, and talented than ever. Rizzo says expectations are higher this year with 30 players that will have to work hard to earn a starting position.
Among them, the upcoming season sees the return of veteran Piranha players Luis Zamora, Charles Nweke, Tyler Clare, Tyler Benham, Cody Merkes, Jake Corliss, Devin Pierce, and Robert Acosta.
On top of their previous experience with the Piranhas, Acosta and Benham are fresh off of the pitch, having played for the Norfolk SharX in their inaugural season. In addition, joining them in trading one set of fins for another, is SharX captain Tennant McVea, further tightening the threads that connect the Hampton Roads soccer community.
McVea is looking forward to returning to the PDL, formerly a member of Reading United, a Mid-Atlantic Division team based in Pittsburgh, PA. According to McVea, the team strategy is to play hard and go as far as they can this season. “It will be exciting to put on a Piranhas jersey.”
Coach Rizzo is happy to have the Norfolk SharX players on the team. "I already know them and I’ve worked with them," he says. He feels they will bring more composure, maturity and integrity to the already talented group.
General Manager Jim Gooley is also enthusiastic about the squad. "I’m really pleased and excited with Coach Rizzo in recruiting a great group of players. The addition of experienced SharX players brings a dynamic to the outdoor game that Coach Rizzo can really exploit. It will make for an exciting season to see indoor and outdoor teams come together.”
According to Gooley, Hampton Roads can expect to see a "unique PDL team hitting the pitch." The players agree. With various levels of experience and skills, while the team strives for a winning record, another focus for the team is a commitment to partnering with the community to develop the youth soccer in the area.
For Wes Hendrix, a junior at Ocean Lakes High School, making the prestigious roster is an invaluable opportunity. With aspirations of one day playing soccer professionally, he appreciates the skills, advice and training he will receive throughout the season to get him one step closer to his goal.
“I am extremely excited to play with veteran Piranhas players as well as some Norfolk SharX players,” says Hendrix. “Hopefully, when I am done with college, I will be able to try out for the Norfolk SharX.”
Longtime supporters get their highly-anticipated return to action, and new fans can join in on the excitement when the Virginia Beach Piranhas return to their home field for this season’s home opener against the Real Maryland Monarchs FC on May 5 at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex.
For more information and to purchase tickets for the Virginia Beach Piranhas, visit www.vbpirhanas.com
To learn more about the Major Indoor Soccer League and your Norfolk SharX, check out the official website atwww.norfolksharx.com.