3 Youth Soccer Clubs Merge, Join Charlotte Independence

Apr 23, 2019

Charlotte Independence Soccer Club is the new organization's name. It will have more than 12,000 players from Fort Mill, South Carolina, to Iredell County. It's being formed by the merger of the Carolina Rapids in the Lake Norman area, Discoveries Soccer Club in Fort Mill, and Lake Norman Soccer Club in Mooresville.

Rapids Executive Director Thomas Finlay will be the CEO. He said it's about sharing resources to improving the level of soccer in the region.  

"The staffing, the fields, the tournaments, the ability for coaching education, the connection with the pro team. At the end of the day, all that's going to do is filter down and improve the everyday experience for the players involved, the members involved, the coaches and even the referees," Finlay said. "Everything's going to get better."

The merger will allow the clubs to work together on new artificial turf fields and spend more money on soccer, instead of marketing to compete with one another for players, Finlay said.

WORKING WITH THE PROS

Charlotte's second-level professional soccer team, the Charlotte Independence, will provide financial and marketing support and offer a place for top local recruits to play professionally, said Independence owner Jim McPhilliamy.

"We've lost some good players to other markets. People have gone to Kansas City. They've gone to Atlanta," McPhilliamy said. "And what we hope to do is start keeping those people in Charlotte because there's a pro pathway for them to pursue here now."

And he said someday, it could help bring a top-level Major League Soccer team to the city.  

"Our vision ever since we started was to help bring MLS to Charlotte, so we do everything we do in the context of that mindset," he said. "We know other people with much bigger bank accounts than me are working on that as well."

That was a reference to Carolina Panthers' billionaire owner David Tepper, who has said he would like to bring an MLS team to Charlotte.

"And I think if push comes to shove, and we get to that point, we'll support what he's trying to do if it helps bring MLS to Charlotte," McPhilliamy said.

How it could help is by providing the kind of youth-to-adult training program that's found in other MLS cities. Raleigh, which is competing against Charlotte for an MLS team, has a program like that in the North Carolina Football Club.

Both Charlotte and Raleigh lost out in the last round of bidding for the 27th and 28th MLS teams last year. But the league announced last week that it plans to expand to 30 teams in the coming years. Tepper has said he has held talks with the league about bringing a team to Charlotte.   

EXPANDING THE AUDIENCE

McPhilliamy said the deal also could help raise the profile of his team and help fill the stands, especially when the Independence move from Matthews to Charlotte's Memorial Stadium in 2020.   

"It goes both ways," he said.

Meanwhile, the merged youth clubs also plan to address concerns about the cost of youth soccer — sometimes called "pay to play." Club dues and travel expenses can be thousands of dollars a year, which may put soccer out of reach for lower-income players.  

Finlay said the clubs are fighting that by providing a combined $210,000 in financial assistance this year. He said with additional sponsors and donors next year, that will probably increase after the clubs merge.

"We won't say no to anybody that can't afford it," Finlay said. "If they want to be part of Charlotte Independence Soccer Club and are struggling with the expenses associated with it, they'll be able to play."

RELATED LINKS

Charlotte Independence Soccer Club website - http://independencesoccer.club/

Charlotte Independence professional team - https://www.charlotteindependence.com/

April 20, 2019, Charlotte Observer, "Major League Soccer expands again, opening door for Charlotte and David Tepper"