WHETHER IT'S INTERNATIONAL ATHLETES charging onto the field at the foot of a packed stadium during Copa America Centenario or youth athletes hopping out of the minivan and ambling toward the municipal venue, the sport of soccer has a passionate following that spans all demographics and all ages.
Millions of Americans of all ages play soccer every year, both competitively and recreationally. It’s one of the highest participatory sports in the country — which is easy to believe since most schools in this country field teams for both boys and girls.
The most recent data available from the Physical Activity Council shows overall participation for outdoor soccer at year-end 2015 holding around 12.65 million, up slightly from the previous year. But the indoor sport saw a jump of 6.2 percent in the same period, to total participation of more than 4.8 million players. The leap could be due to the construction of more indoor fields for sports such as soccer. Following are highlights of some the locations around the country that are seeing a surge in soccer are the following.
“Here in Beaumont, we have a lot of support for soccer,” says Freddie Willard, director of sales for the Beaumont CVB. “Local soccer clubs want to host tournaments and that brings a lot of visitors to town. The clubs work closely with the CVB to attract events. It’s a great partnership all around.”
The soccer clubs also help maintain the fields in town, including the Cris Quinn Memorial Soccer Complex, which has 30 lighted, natural grass fields and one indoor synthetic turf field. About five miles away are the Babe Zaharias Soccer Fields, which offer a total of 10 natural grass fields (six large, four smaller).
At the end of April, the South Texas Youth Soccer Association will host the state championships for 11 and under and 18 and under, expecting more than 80 teams. In the fall, Beaumont hosts more than 100 teams for the Eastern District playoffs.
“Our hotels are all fan- and team-friendly,” Willard says. “As a community, we understand the needs of all sports groups. We’re going to make them feel like guests here. Our facilities are great and with the local support, we’re setting up event owners to have successful tournaments.”
El Paso, Texas
The city of El Paso has made significant investment in some of its parks and other sports assets, according to Brooke Underwood, director of convention development for Destination El Paso. In 2012, the city embarked on a bond campaign worth $500 million, and included in that was expansion and improvement of field space. Westside Regional Park, for example, will see 13 new natural grass fields, nine of them lighted, which are scheduled to open in January 2018. Eastside Regional Park will have six new grass fields, to open in the second half of 2018.
All of this is in addition to the 60 total fields currently available around the area. The largest cluster is the Westside Sports Complex, with 13 grass fields, most of which are lighted. Another complex in town currently offers six fields suitable for soccer events.
The area is extremely hospitable to soccer tournaments, Underwood notes, including hosting the Sun Bowl tournament over three days every June. A number of teams come across the border from Mexico to play in El Paso, too, including professional and semi-pro teams. “We have exhibition games from Mexican ‘futbol’ clubs here because they know with all the support for soccer in El Paso, they will pack the stands,” Willard says.
This spring marks the fifth season the Elizabethtown Sports Park has hosted soccer events. “From a facility standpoint, we’ve learned what we’re capable of,” says Janna Clark, the sports and sales director. “We have some really strong partners we’ve been with since the beginning, and we’ve brought on some new soccer partners as well.”
“Our fields have been through enough growing seasons that we know our turf really well,” she adds. “So that gives us the opportunity to advise our event owners so we can really customize our packages to them. We’ll know this event will work well at this time of the year, and here’s why. We know exactly where to position things to maximize their experience in the park.”
The Sports Park offers 12 full-size soccer fields, all lighted, with two synthetic turf fields. In early March, the park hosted its first professional soccer exhibition match (“although we’re much more focused on larger weekend events,” Clark notes), a pre-season event in the United Soccer League, which is one level below MLS. “They reached out to us, based on the publicity we get for our facility.”
Clark says E-town continues to grow and change. “Every time people come back here, their experience is different”—from a new downtown revitalization, to new shopping and restaurants, a water park, and more on the way. “There’s some really exciting community development going on.”
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Soccer is so popular in Fayetteville that it’s “ingrained in the community,” says John Meroski, president & CEO of the Fayetteville Area CVB. “Not only do we have great facilities, it’s kind of a way of life here. At any point, you can go out to the Jordan Soccer Complex and see tournaments, league play, pick-up games for all ages. I myself play in a ‘mid-life’ soccer league.”
Because soccer is “part of the lifestyle in Fayetteville,” there’s a lot of support for events coming to town. “It’s easy for us to find volunteers, get vendors on board to help offset tournament expenses and get the community to rally behind soccer events,” Meroski adds. “It’s very easy to bring in soccer tournaments and make them completely turnkey, with local support, club support, city support and media support.”
The Triangle Futbol Club plays out of the eight-field, natural grass Jordan Soccer Complex, hosting events through January and February that bring in a few thousand youngsters. Other facilities include Arnette Park with three grass fields and two high schools in town.
In December 2014, Speedway Village in Lincoln started soccer play on its indoor complex. Last year, it added nine outdoor fields. With this additional capacity, “We’re now able to bid on more regional and national events,” says Derek Bombeck, the sales development manager for the Lincoln CVB.
“I’ve been talking about this facility for years, and now that it’s online, people want first crack at it,” Bombeck says. Speedway Village features an indoor complex with a 95,000-square-foot fieldhouse, 50,000 square feet of which is field turf and competition space. There’s a mezzanine that overlooks the outdoor fields, which makes it inviting for banquets and gatherings.
The city also offers plenty of other spaces suitable for soccer, including nine fields at Wright Park and four fields at Spirit Park, along with space at other parks, too. “The state of youth soccer in Lincoln is doing very well,” Bombeck adds.
Overland Park, Kansas
Soccer in Overland Park revolves around the Scheels Overland Park Soccer Complex, with its 12 synthetic turf fields, all with lights, as well as a field cooling system to minimize afternoon temperatures. This summer, the 96-acre venue will host the US Youth Soccer Region II Presidents Cup Tournament, drawing about 120 teams. “But most of our tournaments bring in anywhere from 180 to 350 teams,” says Mike Laplante, the operations manager for the Soccer Complex. “We average about 225 teams for our events.” On the schedule for 2019 and 2020 is the US Youth National Championship tournament, which the facility has hosted twice before.
The area has the unique Heartland Soccer Association, an umbrella organization for a number of soccer associations in the region. “There is huge support for soccer in Overland Park,” says Mindy Lallier, the director of sales and service for Visit Overland Park. “I’ve never seen anything like it. There are plenty of volunteers available. And we have a service team here that helps tournament directors with anything they may need.”
With just under 70 acres of grass, the Mossville Soccer Complex is the largest soccer venue in Peoria, with 27 fields available, which can be configured in many different sizes. The complex also includes an indoor complex, along with tons of parking available. While the park district maintains the fields, the facility itself is operated by SC Peoria, the biggest of the many soccer clubs in the area.
Just minutes down the road is Detweiller Park, which has another 12 grass fields. East Peoria has the EastSide Centre, which boasts five lighted full-size fields, including a sunken synthetic turf field with seating for over 4,000 fans, with a berm encircling the field where tents and vendors can be set up. The EastSide Centre hosts one of the state soccer championships annually.
This summer, the new Louisville Slugger complex is expected to be up and running. While designed primarily for softball, Louisville Slugger can accommodate several youth soccer fields. The complex also has a dome that can accommodate a professional-size soccer field or three youth-size fields.
“One of our advantages in central Illinois is the abundance of flat land,” says Cory Hatfield, director of sales for the Peoria Area CVB. “We hold several large soccer tournaments each year, with the largest bringing in nearly 275 teams. Soccer is definitely alive and well here.”
Round Rock, Texas
Round Rock bills itself as “The Sports Capital of Texas,” and the city is doing things big when it comes to sports. Scheduled to open this spring is the new, $27 million Old Settlers Park Multi-Purpose Field Complex, which will have 10 total fields, including one championship synthetic turf field and one championship natural grass field.
The new complex, which is part of the 645-acre Old Settlers Park, will have a clubhouse with wall-to-wall windows on one side, a walkway plaza area, lots of shade structures, playgrounds for kids, large open grass areas for festivals, areas for vendors, field lighting and more. “It’s going to be great, it’s going to be beautiful,” says Nancy Yawn, director of the Round Rock CVB. “It will be a premier venue and will be able handle very large events.
Currently, Round Rock has five full-size fields in Old Settlers Park, but Yawn says as soon as the new complex is opened, “We’ll invest another $3 million in those five fields and totally renovate them to the quality of the new fields. We’re very fortunate our city council believes in it and they continue to invest.”
South Sioux City, Nebraska
In the spring of 2011, catastrophe struck South Sioux City. The Missouri River spilled its banks, flooding the adjacent Jeffrey Dible Soccer Complex and all its 15 grass fields. “We hauled 200,000 cubic yards of sand off the complex over the next year,” says Gene Maffit, the parks director for South Sioux City. “Normally, a government agency would get funding from FEMA to cover costs, but in this case, we didn’t. A lot was donated labor to remove all the sand.”
The fields were completely regraded and reseeded, plus work was needed to get the sprinkler system functioning. But now, the complex, with its 15 grass fields, is in full use. “The grass continues to get better every year,” Maffit says.
“The parks department has done a great job,” adds Jim Steele, president of the South Sioux City Area Chamber of Commerce. “That complex was totally underwater, and now it’s one of the nicer soccer complexes in the Midwest. The sport is huge here, too.” SDM