Dave Carton explains some of the advantages of new youth soccer club
Rest in peace Discoveries Soccer Club.
The youth soccer organization that served around 2,700 kids in York and Lancaster counties is no more after a merger of clubs announced this week under the Charlotte Independence Soccer Club umbrella.
The Independence is the pro team that competes in the second highest level of the American soccer pyramid, and counts former Northwestern High School stars Enzo and Alex Martinez as two of its current players. The Martinez brothers came of age playing for Discoveries, which was based in York County.
The new Charlotte Independence Soccer Club will boast 12,000 players and cover an area stretching from Iredell County, north of Charlotte, as far south as Kershaw, S.C., and from Gastonia, N.C., across to Mint Hill, N.C. The new club will headquarter in Cornelius, N.C., but will split most of its leadership into northern and southern halves. The club’s teams operating in the southern half of its turf will play under the banner Charlotte Independence South.
Besides new uniforms -- all of the 12,000 players will wear the Charlotte Independence’s blue and white uniforms -- there shouldn’t be many drastic changes for York County youth soccer players, or their parents.
“In terms of their logistics, their carpooling, their training sites, unless they’re playing in a national program, no,” noticeable changes, said Carton.
The passing of Discoveries into American soccer history isn’t seen as a negative by Carton.
He joined Discoveries in 2008 and became its head director in 2010. He always wanted to create a club with a ladder that players could climb from recreation soccer as elementary school-aged children, all the way to the professional level. It’s a club setup that Carton, from Ireland, and the Martinezes, from Uruguay, recognize from their home countries.
“We only had enough levels of play to keep top players for only so long,” Carton said of Discoveries. “I always wanted there to be a capstone program, for the men and the women. After 10 years, this opportunity came.”
Two advantages of the new club that should benefit former Discoveries players: a bigger organization enables directors and coaches, like Carton, to drop some of the tasks they’ve been juggling while working in their smaller clubs, and instead focus on specific areas of youth soccer. Carton, who was named the new club’s technical director, pointed out that Charlotte Independence Soccer Club will have a fully-devoted college recruiting coordinator helping its worthy youth players land college scholarship opportunities.
The bigger club will also allow youth soccer players in York and Lancaster counties to play at the highest level possible. Discoveries did not have a team entered in the girls’ Elite Clubs National League, the highest level of girls’ youth soccer in the country. The new Charlotte Independence Soccer Club will have a girls’ ECNL outfit, raising the competition ceiling for girls from across the region, including South Carolina.
There will be Charlotte Independence Soccer Club academy teams for players ages 15 to 19. For boys, that means the possibility of signing academy contracts with the Independence pro team, deals that would enable them to maintain their amateur status and NCAA eligibility, but also train with the pro team and possibly make the step up to join the pro side. Carton said that former Discoveries players involved in academy teams may see some changes in where they practice.
The Independence academy team will play against the nation’s other elite academy teams, many of which are connected to Major League Soccer clubs. It’s a possibility that, if it happened a decade ago, would have been immensely appealing for the Martinez brothers.
“I think it’s a great step for the next generation of kids to have a direct path to the pros, if that’s what they want to do,” said Alex Martinez, who, along with his brother, Enzo, has coached numerous Discoveries teams. “I think it’s going to pick up the level of everything we do on the field.”
Connecting youth teams to a fully pro team offers a carrot, a clear view of the possibilities, for youth soccer players in York County, Charlotte, Lake Norman. Sitting outside of the Independence’s clubhouse at Matthews Sportsplex Thursday morning, Enzo Martinez said that a clear pathway to pro soccer makes all the difference for youth coaches.
“For me, the most important thing to get a group of kids to actually buy into what you want to do is you have to sell them a dream,” he said. “If they put in a certain amount of work, if they’re willing to learn, willing to sacrifice, they can play soccer and this is what they can be about. Now, it’s there. You do good and you move up, and you eventually end up here.”
The club’s offerings start at the bottom with recreation soccer, climbing into travel teams, then elite academy teams. The bridge between the academy teams and the pro teams are two sides that will begin play this summer, a men’s team in USL-2 and a women’s team in the Women’s Premier Soccer League.
The WPSL and USL-2 leagues are similar to the Coastal Plains League for summer college baseball. College soccer players, especially from the Charlotte, York County areas, can play high-level soccer (without pay) in the summer and, on the men’s side, remain connected with the Independence, which increases their pro opportunities after college.
Both teams will play at Nation Ford High School, starting in May.
So far, Carton’s USL-2 side has signed York County products Will Martin and Blake Baker (both Queens University, Nation Ford High School), Michael Smith (Winthrop, Nation Ford) and Davis Hooten (Michigan State, Northwestern). The WPSL team is heavily local, including 10 former high school players from the area, as well as Winthrop players.
Carton said it only took eight weeks for Discoveries, Lake Norman Soccer Club, and Carolina Rapids to make the merger a reality. Adult egos were shoved aside, not always an easy thing in youth soccer, and the new club was formed.
“Together,” said Jim McPhilliamy, Independence President and managing partner, “we’re going to be able to raise the profile of soccer higher than we could as individual organizations.”