Kick It Up!
2 Mar, 2016By: Peter Francesconi
Whether it’s the U.S. Women’s National Team charging onto the field to face international competition, regional tournaments for teenagers or kids squaring off on a beach, Americans of all ages are playing soccer.
That amount of action has made the sport the third most-played team sport in the country—behind basketball and baseball—with more than 17 million participants. The popularity of soccer in the U.S. has been growing for decades, with field sizes that can be adjusted for the age of participants (from under six to adult) and the number of players on a team (from 3 v 3 to 11 v 11). In fact, it’s estimated that 30 percent of American households include someone who plays soccer.
With all these players, it’s essential that there are top-notch fields and complexes around the country that can handle tournaments and events for all ages.
One of the largest youth sports venues in the country is the Elizabethtown Sports Park, which was opened in July 2012. The park offers 12 multi-sport fields, nine of which are lighted, and two of which are championship fields with synthetic turf, terraced hillside seating, electronic scoreboards and permanent striping.
“Our fields are really well-established,” says Janna Clark, the sports and sales director for the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau. “We’ve played three seasons now, so we’ve had several growing seasons. We can work with our partners to identify when is the best time to hold their events, and where their matches should be placed, so athletes experience the best turf. And the feedback from players and tournament directors has been tremendous.”
In April, the Sports Park will host for the third year the Javanon Cup, presented by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. This year, since the event has grown so large, it has had to be split into a girls’ weekend and a boys’ weekend.
The Sports Park is a state-of-the-art facility with fields designed with drainage systems and computerized irrigation to assist in making them playable as quickly as possible. For families and friends, there are six full-service concession stands, numerous restroom facilities (including family restrooms), three large covered pavilions with tables and seating, and four playgrounds with misting stations, in addition to wi-fi throughout the park.
“Soccer is a really big deal here in Frisco,” says Ryan Callison, the director of marketing and communications for Visit Frisco. Part of the reason soccer is big may be because the city is the home base for U.S. Youth Soccer.
The anchor facility for soccer is the Toyota Soccer Center, a 117-acre complex that includes a world-class stadium adjacent to 17 lighted, regulation-size, tournament-grade soccer fields, with plenty of parking. Several of the tournament fields are turf, and one field provides seating for about 600 spectators. The center hosts soccer events of all stripes, from youth and adult amateur tourneys, to local, regional, national and international tournaments, to high school, camps, clinics and more. The fields have subsurface drainage and are fully irrigated. This year, among other events, Toyota Stadium will host the Women’s World Cup Qualifier.
Frisco also is home to PIT+ (Performance Indoor Training+), an indoor facility that opened last year with two fields, including a regulation-size outdoor-size field – only indoors. But what makes PIT+ unique is the Soccer Robotic Training Center, a robotic simulator device, the only one in the U.S., and only the fifth in the world (and, the only Soccer RTC that’s open to the public.)
The big draw in Hampton for soccer aficionados is beach soccer. June 4-5 will be the ninth annual Sand Soccer Shootout at Buckroe Beach, put on by the Aim for Excellence Foundation. The event draws about 500 athletes and 60 teams, along with a few thousand spectators, each year.
“Beach soccer has been big here for a while,” says Ryan Downey of the Hampton CVB. “We hold the tournament the same weekend as our Blackbeard Festival, so beach soccer participants and fans coming into town can also attend.” The Sand Soccer Shootout has 12 to 15 different divisions, including men’s, women’s boys’, girls’ and coed. Each team plays a minimum of three matches.
The newest facility for soccer in Lincoln is Speedway Village. About a year ago, the 95,000-square-foot indoor fieldhouse opened, complete with Lincoln’s largest indoor field turf space. Coming online by June of this year is the outdoor complex, with nine full-size fields sporting a high-end bluegrass playing surface. “We’re booking some smaller events right now for the outdoor fields—we want to get a year’s worth of growth out of the grass before we book larger events,” says Derek Bombeck, the sales development manager for the Lincoln CVB.
Indoors, Speedway Village has already hosted a number of events, including soccer. The complex also includes a sports performance area complete with trainers and doctors. It’s also connected to Defy Gravity, an indoor trampoline park.
Completed in the summer last year was the $20 million Barbara Hibner Soccer Stadium at the University of Nebraska, part of the new Nebraska Soccer and Tennis Complex. The venue features a full-size, lighted outdoor championship field with seating for 2,500 fans.
Lincoln also has other venues for hosting major soccer tournaments and events, including the Ethel S. Abbott Sports Complex, with more than 100 acres, 60 of which are professionally maintained fields. The complex can offer 11 full-size fields, a Championship field with seating for 2,500, and eight smaller fields for youth competition. There’s also a multi-purpose indoor facility with one turf field. In addition, should an event need more playing areas, the city’s Wright Park has nine soccer fields, and Spirit Park offers another four.
Loudoun is home to Loudoun Soccer, which is the largest soccer organization in Virginia, with about 16,000 members ages 6 to 18 and 30 different programs. “Loudoun Soccer generates a lot of activities,” says Torye Hurst, the national sports sales manager for Visit Loudoun. “It also helps us bring in events, so tournament directors can rely on that base to help out with participants.”
Loudoun Sports Park opened in September 2012 and provides a year-round, all-weather facility with two lighted artificial turf fields, along with a small grass field for practice. The Sports Park also has a 5,000-square-foot office and clubhouse with media room and laundry facilities, along with a dedicated, experienced event marketing staff. In addition, there is Morven Park, also opened in 2012, with eight grass fields, and plans to add more to keep up with the demand for additional playing venues.
Loudoun plays host to three large soccer events, the biggest being the Washington Area Girls Soccer Tournament, which is hosted on the turf fields of the Evergreen and Loudoun soccer facilities. “The WAGS event will feature from 500 to 600 teams,” Hurst says, “and it runs all over Loudoun County and into our neighboring counties.” The area also held the Alliance Premier Cup as well as the Virginian Elite Showcase for college players.
Morgan Hill, California
The Morgan Hill Outdoor Sports Center has 28 acres of grass fields available, along with two synthetic turf fields with lights. But the big news, says Jeff Dixon, chairman and executive director of the Morgan Hill Youth Sports Alliance, is that new rules in 2016 will end up moving some age groups onto smaller-size fields, “so if you’re using all turf fields that are permanently marked, you may have some age groups that can’t use them.”
But that’s not the case with Morgan Hill, whose grass can be configured in whatever way necessary. “It gives tournament operators greater flexibility,” Dixon adds.
In terms of the MHOSC itself, “We’ve strengthened our relationships with local hotels,” he notes. There are now six hotels, offering 800 rooms, all within walking distance of the sports venue, and a seventh is being built. There are additional hotels just a few miles away.
Morgan Hill is about half an hour from the San Jose airport and about an hour away from San Francisco, in a beautiful valley nestled between two mountain ranges. With its rural feel and quaint downtown, Morgan Hill is an unlikely setting for a sport Mecca. But the professional staff at the sports center offers full turn-key service for event owners and managers.
Santa Rosa, California
“Soccer is big here in Santa Rosa, with our girls’ high school team nationally ranked,” says Charlene Lennon, director of sports development for Visit Santa Rosa. “We also have elite club-level teams.”
In December, the city broke ground for the Epicenter indoor sports and entertainment complex. The 130,000-square-foot warehouse building will house a series of athletic and fitness facilities. The Sports City Arena part of the Epicenter will offer three playing fields, which are expected to be open this spring. The Epicenter complex also will house fitness facilities, entertainment venues, dining, retail and much more.
A number of parks are also available for soccer events, including A Place to Play, which offers six soccer fields, restrooms, and a concession stand. Galvin Community Park, Southwest Park, Rincon Valley Park and Franklin Park also offers soccer fields.
Santa Rosa is north of San Francisco in Sonoma County, with miles of Pacific coastline, mountains and valleys. The area is, of course, wine country, but there also are now a number of craft beer breweries, too. Santa Rosa itself has about 2,000 hotel rooms, with another 4,000 throughout the county.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Soccer is big in Sioux Falls, which offers a total of 45 fields, nine with lights. There are 35 regulation-size fields, and a stadium with 10,000 seats is available, along with a field with bleacher seating for 5,000. For large tournaments and events, the two farthest fields in Sioux Falls are separated by only seven miles.
The largest complex is the 21-field Yankton Trail Park, which is the site of many invitational, regional and state soccer tournaments, and is home to the Manfred Szameit Soccer Complex. The city also offers the Tomar Park Soccer Complex, with 10 fields. The Sanford Fieldhouse, which opened in 2012, is an 85,000-square-foot-facility with 62,000 square feet of field turf, and is home to the Dakota Alliance Soccer Club indoor training. In June 2017, Sioux Falls will again host the U.S. Youth Soccer Region II Championship, which brings in more than 10,000 visitors to the area.
“Between the facilities we have available, hotels, restaurants and things to do, Sioux Falls is a very convenient and affordable city when it comes to hosting soccer events,” says Krista Orsack, director of marketing for the Sioux Falls CVB. “We have great community support for soccer.”
The premier sports venue in Visalia is the 83-acre Riverway Sports Park, which offers 10 full-size grass soccer fields that can be configured for any level of play, an interactive water feature with splash pad, playgrounds, concessions and picnic areas. “Riverway is a gorgeous facility and an outstanding complex to host tournaments,” says Suzanne Bianco of the Visalia CVB. “It’s laid out well, with plenty of seating on either side of the fields.” Five of the soccer fields at Riverway are lighted.
Just a few minutes away is the city of Visalia, with its historic downtown Main Street, with many locally owned restaurants and boutiques. “Our merchants in downtown have banded together to ensure that Main Street is a vibrant, walkable area,” Bianco says. There are more than 50 locally owned restaurants, and because the area is in the heart of California agriculture, the menus are very “farm fresh.” There are two major hotels in downtown, with more just minutes from Main Street.
For families, the area is the gateway to Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks, at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.