LAKEWOOD RANCH -- They came from near and far, speaking many languages and carrying passports from Nigeria, Australia, the Netherlands and elsewhere, united by a desire to land a professional soccer contract.
Premier Sports Campus is hosting the InfoSport Pro Soccer Combines this week, and 250 soccer players are trying to impress pro scouts and coaches with their skill and athletic ability.
For some, like midfielder Nick Bezer, 26, who plays with leagues in the Cocoa Beach area, this is probably his last shot at the pros.
The best outcome?
"To get signed," Bezer said. "I figured I would give soccer one more shot."
Amalaye Oyake, a sports agent for Concorde Sports Agency in Beverly Hills, met up Tuesday with a player he represents, defenseman Phil Ojapah of Liverpool, England.
Hundreds of millions of soccer dollars are being spent on Florida teams, he noted.
"Florida is becoming the soccer mecca," Oyake said. "The teams are all coming east this year. This year they are coming to Florida."
January through March is the pro soccer signing period, and players who don't get a scout's attention now may have to wait another year for another opportunity, he said.
Daryl Shore, coach of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers who serves as director of soccer for InfoSport, addressed the athletes at the start of the tryouts Tuesday.
"We are looking for guys who can perform at the next level. Your evaluator will be your individual coach," Shore told the group, seated on the grass under a bright noon sun.
Not all will be rated as pro material.
"This is a reality of life," Shore said.
InfoSport has conducted one scouting combine a year for the past 13 years, and this is the second at Lakewood Ranch, said Julie D. Lanzillo, president.
"We love it here. Great lo
cation. Perfect everything," Lanzillo said.
Both Major League Soccer and the North American Soccer League have scouts this week at Lakewood Ranch. Some of the athletes were invited to the tryouts by pro teams, and the others essentially paid their registration fee and walked on.
"There will be many diamonds in the rough," Lanzillo said.
What are scouts looking for this year?
"Every team has different needs," she said. "It's based on their returning players and their current rosters."
A number of parents and grandparents accompanied their players to the tryouts, supporting the pursuit of their dreams.
Among them were Christine Loafman from Palm Bay with her son Brandon, 20; Bernie Barrett of Vancouver, British Columbia, with his son Gavin, 22; and Wilson Yerk of North Port with his grandson Jordan Grant, 22, from Indiana.
Rob Ferguson of the Lakewood Ranch Holiday Inn was in the registration trailer at Premier Sports campus. The Holiday Inn is serving as host hotel for the event, but other hotels in the area are also getting businesses because of the tryouts.
"It's another example of Lakewood Ranch's Premier Sports Campus being a great venue to run a first-class event. It's a great opportunity for the players," said Tim Mulqueen, director of sports for Lakewood Ranch.
One of those coming the longest distance to try out was Emmanuel Egbosimbah of Nigeria, who heard about the combine through his agent.
It was his introduction to the United States.
"Nice scenery, nice people. I have high hopes," Egbosimbah said.
Greg Edma, a 22-year-old forward and Florida Atlantic University student from Boca Raton, was upbeat about the tryouts.
"Another day of playing soccer, doing what you love, you can't be nervous about that," Edma said.
The tryouts continue through Thursday.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1.