After a pandemic, supply-chain disruptions and the expected delays of any large-scale project, postponing the first-ever game by a day on the field of the still-in-progress Tormenta Stadium due to a tropical storm didn’t faze Darin Van Tassell.
“We’ve worked so hard for so many years, waiting one more day to make sure everyone is safe and our fans can better enjoy the match is easy,” said Van Tassell, who is a founder and current president of South Georgia Tormenta FC.
Tormenta’s contest against the Richmond Kickers, originally scheduled for Saturday, will be played at 7:30 p.m. Sunday on Optim Sports Medicine Field due to Hurricane Ian. Ian is currently forecast to bring tropical storm conditions to the Bulloch County area Friday and possibly into Saturday, as well.
Despite the various hold-ups and interruptions, and the noise around him that the stadium would never be built, Van Tassell knew when the first game would be played in Tormenta Stadium was never a question of if, it always was a question of when.
“With the support of our investors, the city, the school board and the state through Georgia Southern, we were on solid footing, but certainly the delays were frustrating to the public, and to me,” he said. “But now, the field is ready, the stadium is well on its way to completion and development of the entire complex is taking shape. It feels amazing! I have to say.”
On Aug. 6, 2015, Van Tassell announced to the public that a Statesboro-based team would compete in the Premier Development League (PDL) beginning in the 2016 season. He first revealed plans to move Tormenta to become a fully professional franchise in May 2017 and two months later unveiled plans for a 5,300-seat stadium complex that would include restaurants, shopping, office space and even apartments.
A Publix Supermarket-anchored shopping center was announced in 2019 and with the grocery store set to open in mid-November, it truly will transform the Old Register Road/Bypass, southern side of Statesboro and create a destination point that is unique between Macon and Savannah.
But Sunday, the focus will be on soccer.
The stadium currently has permanent bleacher stands on the visitor’s side of the field that will seat 2,500. Some of the small bleacher sets that were used at Erk Russell Park for Tormenta home games have been moved behind the goal lines, as well.
One of the scoreboards is up and fully operational on the south end of the field and full LED boards are set up all along the home sideline, along with a temporary press box. Temporary locker rooms also are set up for both teams behind the scoreboard.
For Sunday’s game, there will be plenty of parking in the vicinity around the stadium, though in the immediate area, it is not yet paved. Concessions will be available from several food trucks.
“Obviously, this will not be anywhere near what the full fan experience will be like next season, but there will be a great atmosphere on Sunday night that I know will be unforgettable,” Van Tassell said. “It’s a first. It’s local history.”
Also, the game itself is a key contest for Tormenta in its effort to secure a spot in the USL League 1 playoffs. With three games to play in the season, Tormenta currently sits in fourth place and actually would be host to a playoff game if it holds or improves that position. Richmond is in first place and will provide a tough test for the first game on the Optim Field.
And as well as a night of celebration for the Tormenta franchise, Sunday will be time to honor the memory of Carter Payne. A player for the Tormenta FC 2 team from the University of Michigan, Payne was the victim of a hit and run incident in Statesboro in July.
According to police, Payne was on a Lime electric scooter when he was struck by a vehicle while crossing Fair Road close to the Food World near the Georgia Southern University campus. The driver left the scene before police arrived. The driver has not been identified yet by law enforcement.
All Tormenta teams have worn his #2 on their jerseys throughout the season and for the final home game of the year on Oct. 15, all players will wear a special game jersey made specifically to honor Payne.
“Carter may not be with us in person, but he is always with us,” Van Tassell said. “And he will be with us in our stadium for our first game and every game after that.”