Thousands expected for major U.S. Soccer events at Lakewood Ranch sports campus

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Schroeder-Manatee Ranch CEO Rex Jensen expects $6.5 million to $7 million in direct economic impact. And that’s from just one piece of the puzzle.

Thousands of soccer players, coaches and fans are descending on the Lakewood Ranch Premier Sports Campus this week for U.S. Soccer’s 2011 Development Academy Winter Showcase and the Nike International Friendlies featuring the Under-17 men’s national teams from the United States, Brazil, France and Turkey.

The showcase will feature the top youth soccer players in the country playing several games throughout the weekend and early next week.

It is also expected to bring in about 15,000 people, including players, coaches and family members traveling with 165 Development Academy teams from across the United States. Jensen estimates about 90 percent of the attendees will be from outside the area and they’ll be staying at local hotels and eating at local restaurants.

That’s not to mention the residual effects.

“All these folks are going to go back and say, ‘Gosh, what great fields and what a great place to hold tournaments and events,’ ” Jensen said. “So from the standpoint of marketing this facility, this event is perfect.

Tim Mulqueen, director of the Premier Sports Campus, said 500 college coaches will be in town, too, as well as three scouts from France and two scouts from England.

“So we actually have people from all over the world that are coming because of this event,” he said. “Because they are the best youth players in America and they will all be in one place.”

The other piece of the economic puzzle, the Nike International Friendlies, kicked off Wednesday, with two more games each set for Friday and Saturday. Admission is free. Fox Soccer Channel is televising the U.S. matches, set for 5 p.m. both days.

“It’s going to show up on television and that’s great advertising for the entire community,” Jensen said. “It isn’t often that you get a worldwide broadcast of something that is going on in this area.”

Roughly 125 people braved cool temperatures and whipping winds to witness an incredible finish to the U.S. opener against France.

Wesley Wade scored on the final kick of the game to tie the score at 2. The Americans triumphed 2-0 in the penalty shootout. The winning penalty came from defender Adonis Amaya.

“I had a celebration in mind, so I really wanted to do that celebration,” said Amaya, who used some dance moves from the pop group LMFAO to celebrate. “I kind of picked a spot and hit it there, and it went in ... when I was about to shoot, I kind of looked at the ball, but then I saw (France’s keeper’s) foot go to the left side, so I played it to the right.”

So far the U.S. team is off to a great start, drawing with a France team that made the quarterfinals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup last summer.

Next up is Turkey on Friday, followed by the marquee game against Brazil on Sunday.

The Americans have a residence at IMG Academies, which makes the venue for this year’s Nike International Friendlies an added bonus since the club doesn’t have far to travel.

“It’s our home,” said U.S. head coach Wilmer Cabrera said. “That’s why it’s so important for us to try to perform well at home with our people, our countrymen and our city that we live.”