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3 Fort Mill area clubs merge into Palmetto United

Palmetto United Futbol Club - or PUFC - is the name folks in Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Indian Land need to know regarding club soccer in the area. Just 60 days ago, there were three soccer clubs - Upper Palmetto Futbol Club, Carolina Select Soccer Club and the Indian Land Soccer Club - competing for players, coaches and trainers.

Three clubs thinned the pool of players. Three clubs made it tough to find quality coaching and certified trainers. Moreover, Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Indian Land are much smaller than Rock Hill, Columbia, Greenville and other South Carolina cities where one soccer club dominates.

Bill Tooley, the former president and co-founder of Northside Soccer Club, a predecessor to Carolina Select, asked the question; "Why so many clubs?"

To bring about a resolution, Tooley helped bring leaders together from Upper Palmetto and Carolina Select to talk about the possibility of combining forces. On a Friday afternoon, a meeting took place in an office near Baxter Village in Fort Mill.

Chris Quinn was there. He was president of Upper Palmetto for the first three years and nurtured its growth from a single team in 2008 to 10 teams this year.

Quinn thought merging made sense since there was no overlap in the two programs. Upper Palmetto had younger teams, Carolina Select had 15U teams and older. Soon afterward, Ryan Nelson with the Indian Land Soccer Club conveyed his interest in merging as well.

With the merger, PUFC anticipates fielding 28 teams as a minimum. The club will field teams for boys and girls, from U-9 through U-18.

"We all thought we were competitors, but we all needed each other to succeed," Quinn said. "The best thing for everyone to become more competitive is to attract players and skilled trainers. The reputations of each of the clubs will melded into one."

Ryan Morris was also present. Morris was the director of coaching for Carolina Select.

"This is a good thing for this part of the state," Morris said, noting the strength of clubs in other metropolitan areas in South Carolina.

Quinn is the president of the PUFC. Morris is the club's director of coaching for boys and girls teams from U-13 through U-18.

"I saw positive aspects that both clubs had to offer," Tooley explained. "Upper Palmetto had good organizational structure in place, access to fields and a quality recreational soccer program. Carolina Select had quality coaching, the ability to train players and get them to a higher level."

Lou Pantuosco is a trainer and will coach the PUFC's U-17 Premier level team.

"I think if you get a lot of different kids together you can create a great training environment," Pantuosco said. "Without (the merger) a lot of the better kids would go to Charlotte to play."

PUFC now has at least three of the state's top teams. The Carolina Select U-16 boys team, under the direction of Pantuosco, was a state finalist last year in the Challenge Division. The Upper Palmetto U-14 boys won the Classic I state championship, and Indian Land's U-10 girls team finished second in the state.

Palmetto United Futbol Club will officially start in June. Tryouts for the teams will begin this month.