Fort Mill Sports

Palmetto United, Charlotte United merge

Carolina Select players from Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Indian Land are part of the Palmetto United Futbol Club, which has merged with Charlotte United.
Carolina Select players from Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Indian Land are part of the Palmetto United Futbol Club, which has merged with Charlotte United. Herald file photo

The Palmetto United Futbol Club announced a partnership with Charlotte United, strengthening the foundation of area soccer and expanding the footprint of one of the Southeast’s largest and most respected clubs.

“It’s huge, and we’re really excited,” Palmetto United President David Finley said. “I think the greatest opportunity for us is long term, but it is a big win for both of us.”

Palmetto United governs about 20 club soccer teams and 250 players. With the addition of Charlotte United, which supports upwards of 1,750 club players in a variety of teams, merging the organizations makes both stronger.

The benefits to Palmetto United are far-reaching. The merger brings a wealth of resources, including coaching, instruction, curriculum and financial management – all of which Palmetto United will share with Charlotte United. But, Finley said, the single biggest coup is the use of Charlotte United’s vast field space, most notably the Palisades in Charlotte’s Steel Creek area just over the state border, which will be the exclusive home of Palmetto United.

“We will have an exclusive complex, which has been the No. 1 challenge,” Finley said. “We have a great relationship with Fort Mill schools, and they’ve been a great partner for us. They’re building the Riverside Complex on Sutton Road, which is supposed to be available in September, but Palisades is going to be our exclusive complex.

“I’ve always said you can’t really be a club until you have an exclusive complex. I know Riverside is going to be nice, but there are others who want to use it, so we would not be exclusive.”

Getting to use Charlotte United’s vast coaching and instructional resources is also a major bonus, Finley said.

Heading the charge is Bill Finneyfrock, Charlotte United’s founder and president, who will serve as Palmetto’s director of coaching. Per South Carolina Youth Soccer rules, the board, finances, and affiliation with their respective state soccer associations will remain separate.

Finneyfrock, a North Carolina Soccer Hall of Fame inductee and former Erskine and Clemson University goalkeeper, is a Tega Cay resident who helped lead the Charlotte Lightnin’ to the 1981 American Soccer League championship. Finneyfrock has coached state championship teams at Charlotte Catholic and in 25 seasons at Providence Day, where he is still the boys’ soccer coach.

“They are so well-respected,” Finley said.

“They knew our people, and we’ve had a good relationship, but one of the greatest wins for us is bringing in the local legend Bill Finneyfrock. He’s invested because this is his backyard, and we feel that’s very significant. Plus (Charlotte United Director of Soccer) Steve Magee is one of the most capable people I’ve ever met in soccer. They have Charlotte Independence and Under Armour sponsorships, and it just made sense.”

“(Our) focus will be on maintaining a reputation for high performance while continuing to invest in player development, including advanced training for local recreation players,” Charlotte United said in a news release announcing the merger. “The Charlotte United family-friendly, diverse and inclusive culture is seen as melding seamlessly with Palmetto United.”

With the new backing in place, Palmetto United has already begun to expand. The organization, which predominantly serves Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Rock Hill, Clover, Lancaster and Steele Creek, has started the brand new Performance Development Academy in an effort to transition its 40 to 60 kids from recreation to club soccer.

“It’s a great resource for kids,” Finley said. “It is well-run, it’s affordable, and it’s something that most clubs, including Charlotte United, don’t offer.”

Palmetto United is also combining its annual Carowinds tournament with Charlotte United’s two other large events, which both attract around 100 club teams from all over the region.

Palmetto United is also making structural changes. Finley is transitioning from president to focusing more on the club’s marketing. Taking over as president is Phil Wellington, former Georgetown University Hall of Fame and Major League Soccer goalkeeper. Finley said he’s extremely proud of that development.

The organization is also seeking board members and community leaders who would like to be a part of the club’s administration.

“It’s an exciting time,” Finely said.

“We have such diversity among our players within the club, and now we are going to have many more resources through our partnership with Charlotte United. We want this to be a club for the Fort Mill area, and we want our people to have a voice in its operation, and I think we’re headed in that direction.”