Bob Brantley assumed youth soccer's top tournament was out of the Palmetto State's reach.
Then the president of South Carolina Youth Soccer visited Manchester Meadows.
Looking over the eight lighted fields at Rock Hill's $12.7 million, 70-acre complex, Brantley was "stunned."
"I said, 'Good gosh, this is a world-class facility,' " Brantley said. "I've been to all these other fabled soccer fields across the country, and Manchester Meadows is as good or better than any other."
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With hotels nearby and an international airport a short drive away, scoring a national competition was suddenly a makeable goal.
Two years later, U.S. Youth Soccer has chosen Manchester Meadows over facilities in the suburbs of Boston and Kansas City as the site of its 2012 national championship.
But winning the tournament was no free kick.
Interviews with organizers and documents obtained by The Herald depict a yearlong effort in which Rock Hill partnered with local and state soccer officials for a city-wide push to lure U.S. Youth Soccer.
In its bid, the host committee - comprised of S.C. Youth Soccer, Discoveries Soccer club and Rock Hill's parks and recreation department - offered the use of:
The Manchester Meadows complex
Fields at Cherry Park, Winthrop University, the city's three high schools and Fort Mill's two high schools.
Rock Hill's bid says 754 rooms are available for the weeklong tournament through the city's "Host Hotel Program," an agreement with a network of local hotels.
While U.S. Youth Soccer will pick up most of the event's bill, the host committee promised to pick up about $20,000 in expenses, including medical staff, rental fees and marketing.
If estimates of a potential $3 million boost for the local economy over the six-day event are accurate, the city stands to gain a healthy return on its investment.
So far, Rock Hill spent $1,060 to send two staff members to Louisville, Ky., in February to make a pitch to the U.S. Youth Soccer board, city spokeswoman Katie Quinn said. The money paid for airfare, accommodations, parking, dining and baggage fees.
The $20,000 in local money likely will come from sponsors, fundraising and proceeds from the city's hospitality tax, said Ed Thompson, director of the city's parks, recreation and tourism department.
Rock Hill's tourism supervisor said he wants to raise more than what's needed to hold special events for players and their families.
"We'll add additional expenses to make this special," Mark Sexton said. "These are activities or events outside the game of soccer ... that would make it even more eventful - something other cities might not offer."
Thompson said an opening event at Carowinds is an example of a special event. The city arranged a visit to the amusement park for softball players during a recent major tournament at Cherry Park.
'A nice boost'
Sixty teams will compete next July here in the championship.
It will cap a season in which more than 10,000 teams compete. State tournaments whittle that number to 926 teams, which play in regional finals.
The top 60 teams face off in the National Championships, which are televised on Fox's soccer channel.
Organizers say it's the highest level teens can play on. Talent scouts from colleges and professional leagues attend the championships to search for future stars.
York County boasts three soccer clubs - Discoveries in Rock Hill; Palmetto United, comprised of clubs from Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Indian Land; and the Inter Catawba Futbol Club in Clover and Lake Wylie.
The host committee's bid touts the area's commitment to the sport.
Discoveries President Niel Welborn, wrote in the bid that Discoveries is the only club in the Carolinas to have had a team win a U.S. Youth Soccer Championship. In 2009, then-coach Dom Wren's team of under-18 boys took the title.
Welborn also wrote about Enzo Martinez, a former Discoveries player and Northwestern High star whom ESPN named "Player of the Decade."
For South Carolina soccer fans, 2012 will be a banner year.
Just before the national championship in Rock Hill, Greenville will host U.S. Youth Soccer's Region III finals.
It's the first time a state has hosted both a regional tournament and the national championship, U.S. Youth Soccer spokesman Todd Roby said.
Based on figures from previous events, Roby said, the combined economic impact could top $12 million.
"It'll be a nice boost for South Carolina from soccer next year," he said.