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Atlantic City FC gives NPSL a South Jersey foothold

Atlantic City FC announced entry into the NPSL’s Keystone Conference at the Tropicana on Thursday

Tropicana Atlantic City General Manager Steve Callender (left) and Atlantic City FC co-owners Andrew Weilgus and Nicholas Bilotta III unveil the new NPSL team’s uniforms at a press conference at the Tropicana Casino & Resort on December 21, 2017
Matt Ralph

Semi-pro soccer is returning to Atlantic City in 2018 with a new team set to join the National Premier Soccer League’s Keystone Conference.

Atlantic City FC is the second team this week from New Jersey - FC Monmouth being the other - to announce entry into a conference that already plays home to three other teams from the greater Philadelphia region in Junior Lone Star FC, West Chester United and Hershey FC.

While the other area NPSL teams have been an outgrowth of success at the youth and amateur levels, seasoned sports professionals Andrew Weilgus and Nicholas Bilotta III are starting fresh with a team that already has a high profile lead sponsor in Tropicana Atlantic City, which hosted a press conference to announce the team on Thursday.

“We’ve seen the success stories of Detroit City and Kingston Stockade, but those stories are very possible here,” said Weilgus, an entrepreneur and producer of DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket. “I think this is the right team at the right time to get that level of support.”

Bilotta, a co-founder of QuizzoTrivia.com and Atlantic City Fantasy Sports, grew up two miles from the Atlantic City boardwalk.

"Make no mistake, this club... our goal above all is else is to bring us something of our own here," Bilotta said. "This is our opportunity to showcase this one of a kind location to the rest of the soccer world."

Atlantic City FC isn’t the first foray for the NPSL into a city that draws 20 million tourists a year.

The Atlantic City Diablos played two seasons in the NPSL in 2007 and 2008 before folding and the AC Crusaders competed in the NPSL in 2011 and 2012 before heading to the American Soccer League and eventually meeting the same fate. Past failed attempts at bringing minor league sports to the city include the Atlantic City Surf, an independent league baseball team that folded in 2009 and the minor league hockey Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies, which folded in 2005 after five seasons.

“I can tell you from personal experience that soccer really has become a popular sport here in Atlantic City, and it’s a great move by Tropicana to be fully supporting this new sports team,” outgoing Mayor Don Guardian said. “The Atlantic City FC will bring national recognition and economic infusion to the area. We’re thrilled to be able to root for the home team once again.”

The team’s technical staff includes a couple impressive names in head coach Kristian O’Leary, a longtime Swansea City player, and technical director Jeremiah White III, who played for nearly a decade in Europe and earned a cap with the United States Men’s National Team in 2008. White currently coaches at the youth level at Lower Merion Soccer Club and, like the team’s owners, is an entrepreneur.

"The diversity in this community is especially important to me and is the main reason I signed on," said White, who will also be involved in community outreach for the club. "You can do soccer in a lot of places but to really make a difference in your community together with this sport is very meaningful to me.”

Stockton University is also a key partner. The local state university about a 15-minute drive from the city will be the team’s home. Their on-campus track and soccer stadium has a natural grass field (without unsightly gridiron lines) and seating for more than 2,000 people. The team plans to stream and broadcast home games on local and regional radio in Spanish and English.

The Keystone Conference kicks off its 2018 season in May.