After several years of dreaming and scheming, F.C. Carolina Discoveries has become a reality. The semi-professional soccer team, based in Rock Hill and connected to the youth club of similar name, opens its first National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) campaign Friday night at Manchester Meadows against Myrtle Beach Mutiny.
“It’s going to be a very proud moment on Friday for the club, and everyone involved,” said F.C. Carolina Discoveries coach Dave Carton, a native of Bunclody, Ireland. “It’s hard to believe that the day after tomorrow we’re going to kick off.”
The NPSL is a soccer league comprised of 13 conferences in four regions. Discoveries will play in the South Atlantic conference with Myrtle Beach, the only returning NPSL team in the new conference; Gate City F.C., from Greensboro, N.C.; Upward Stars, a faith-based club from Spartanburg; and Carolina Railhawks Under-23’s, which are affiliated with the Cary, N.C., NASL team of the same name.
Members of the Discoveries youth club had long bandied about the idea of starting such a semi-pro team but the idea never bloomed until last year. Irish businessman Kieran Brennan is supporting the team financially. F.C. Carolina Discoveries will carry the Discoveries name into the NPSL, but will be financially independent.
“Very, very enthusiastic football man,” Carton said about Brennan, who will meet the team for the first time Friday night.
The semi-pro club will feature a heavy Winthrop and Discoveries youth program-inspired flavor. Carton played at Winthrop from 2005 to 2007, before coaching at the school from 2008 to 2011. Stephen Nsereko played at Winthrop from 2006 to 2009, before a brief professional career, including international appearances for his native Uganda; he now coaches Discoveries youth teams and will be manning Carton’s midfield. Alex Isern is another recent Winthrop graduate from Barcelona, Spain, who has been working with the youth club’s front office. Another recent Winthrop grad, Achille Obougou, had several tryouts in Turkey after helping the Eagles to the NCAA tournament two years ago.
“(Winthrop coach) Rich Posipanko has been a huge influence on us,” said Carton. “We’ve all gone through the Winthrop program.”
Discoveries want to possess the ball and attack with verve on the wide pitch at Manchester Meadows.
“We want to be brave enough to play in every area of the pitch and use every area of the pitch,” said the Irishman, seated at his desk at the club’s East Main Street office. Carton isn’t concerned with his team’s talent or experience. He isn’t so sure about what to expect from the league’s level of play.
“The NPSL is something that everyone is new to,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re not taking anything for granted.”
Discoveries have 25 players in the team, but only 18 make each game-day squad. Wednesday night, Carton told the seven who won’t be involved Friday their fates. It wasn’t a part of the job he envisioned when he first thought of being a professional head coach years back.
“That’s always tough telling players ‘you’re not gonna be involved in the first team,’ ” he said. “There’s high competition for places.”
That scrap for game time should lift Discoveries in their maiden trek through NPSL, and help the residents of a former mill town relate to the team. The 31-year-old Carton hopes that Rock Hill soccer fans adopt the club as their own, especially with many of the city’s youth playing in the black and green already.
“A couple of the club’s parents have said nice comments, ‘this is gonna be our team and the club we support,’ and that’s what we want,” said Carton. “Everyone has their favorite teams, be it MLS or in England. But at the end of the day, people do support their local football team, and that’s what we want from this.”
Carton said he shared essentially that very message with a group of teenaged Discoveries youth players recently.
“I want them to identify with the club and I want them to look up to these players, and think, ‘maybe some day I want to play for them.’”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T