International soccer is coming back to Central Florida in 2017.
The Florida Cup has announced the University of Central Florida’s Bright House Networks Stadium as one of several host venues for the third edition of the young international tournament, which bills itself as Florida's largest international sporting event. More venues will be announced in the coming weeks, but Disney’s Wide World of Sports is expected to be a host venue, as it has been for the past two years.
In addition to the venue announcement, SC Corinthians Paulista (Brazil), Bayer 04 Leverkusen (Germany), and Barcelona Sporting Club (Ecuador) were announced as the first three participants, with the rest of the 2017 field also expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
But it is the move to UCF's larger venue that shows the tournament's growth.
"UCF is thrilled to partner with the Florida Cup to provide a first-class venue for some of the most popular international soccer clubs from around the world," said UCF Athletic Director Danny White. "The Central Florida region knows how great Bright House Networks Stadium is, and is looking forward to showcasing the world-class facilities that you all see today to the entire world."
Bright House Networks stadium will host a minimum of three matches during the Florida Cup, which will take place Jan. 7-21. The final, a new feature of the tournament, will also be held at BHNS.
The stadium will undergo minor renovations following the 2016 UCF football season, expanding the turf in the corners of the field to allow for a full-size soccer field for the Florida Cup and, more importantly, future soccer events.
"From a university perspective, this opportunity will allow us to continue to expand our international reach, with millions of people watching from around the globe," White added. "I applaud our President, Dr. Hitt, and our board of trustees for seeing the benefit of opening up our facility more times around the year. Without their approval, this does not happen."
"I’d like to thank Mr. White and everyone here on the staff that were instrumental in getting this deal done for this partnership, that starts now," said Florida Cup CEO Ricardo Villar. "We are extremely honored to be bringing the games here to UCF."
This will be the first major international soccer event held at Bright House Networks Stadium, which opened in 2007, and seats up to 45,000.
This past January, the tournament was held at three different locations in Central and South Florida, hosting games in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, and Boca Raton. EverBank Field in Jacksonville also hosted games in 2015.