Although youth soccer participation has dipped in recent years, it continues to maintain a formidable place in the United States athletic landscape. The U.S. has approximately 2.3 million players between the ages of 6 and 12 years old, according to a 2018 study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Tournaments and league play involving both youth and adults still enliven fields across the country throughout the year.
Communities that establish themselves as soccer destinations strive to cater to a variety of ages and skill levels, developing expertly maintained fields and occasionally offering access to venues with seating and technology assets that can provide high-stakes matchups and a proper championship game atmosphere.
These areas represent both well-established soccer destinations with long track records and up-and-comers who have made investments demonstrating a new commitment to the sport.
Cleburne boasts two first-class multi-purpose venues that can accommodate large crowds for premier soccer events.
“Our Cleburne Sports Complex is a multi-purpose venue, hosting sports from soccer, football and baseball to softball and offering up to 2,800 seats,” says Heather Juarez, tourism director for the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce. The 90-acre complex has 20 fields and amenities for visitors, including two playgrounds, batting cages, four pavilions and scoreboards. Lighting is available on several of the fields.
Also attracting soccer teams and fans is the train-themed Depot at Cleburne Station, home of the Cleburne Railroaders Minor League Baseball team. The stadium’s synthetic turf field, which has played host to National Junior College Athletic Association playoff contests, readily converts for soccer play and holds more than 4,000 spectators in fixed seating, bleachers and grass berm seating.
Attractions in Cleburne include the Gone with the Wind Remembered Museum and the Plaza Theatre Company, among numerous other museums and entertainment options. The city has more than 700 hotel rooms.
Fayetteville, North Carolina
In Fayetteville County, home of Fort Bragg, the word, “victory,” has a special meaning that infuses everything, including its soccer culture, says Stephanie Decatur, sports sales manager for the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Fayetteville County has 41 soccer fields. The area’s busiest home for the sport is the Jordan Soccer Complex, which has eight fields. Each field has lighting for night games, and the complex is frequently home to youth tournaments. Decatur says the county has temporary seating it can install at the facility for highly attended contests. The complex also has a snack bar, more than 400 parking spaces and a meeting room for officials.
“There’s so much that we’re able to do at Jordan,” Decatur says.
Another key piece of Fayetteville’s soccer climate is the three fields located at Fort Bragg. The complex includes stadium seating, and Decatur says the military base allows outside teams to hold competitions there.
Decatur says the city of Fayetteville has enjoyed a downtown revitalization with new shopping, attractions and hotels, as well as a new baseball park. The area also has unique activities, such as a clay target center and an indoor skydiving facility.
Greenville, North Carolina
Greenville is no stranger to large-scale soccer events, and the area’s North Recreational Complex is a key reason teams routinely descend on the city.
The North Recreational Complex has eight Bermuda grass fields “in immaculate shape,” says Gray Williams, director of sports development for the Greenville-Pitt County Convention and Visitors Bureau. A field house overlooking the field has equipment storage and a covered seating area with restrooms.
The North Recreational Complex gives families entertainment options as well, including walking and running trails, kayaking on the complex’s lake, disc golf, sand volleyball and cornhole.
The complex hosts an annual grassroots soccer tournament with approximately 2,000 athletes. In addition, the statewide Kepner Cup tournament has 1,200 players. Most of the Kepner Cup games are played at the North Recreational Complex, but the championship games are held at East Carolina University’s home field.
“Many times, this is the only time these players will play on a DI field,” Williams says. “This makes our destination unique in that we work seamlessly with ECU for many events.”
The Greenville area has a nine-mile greenway, a 324-acre park with camping, fishing and hiking, and the Tar River, with its cypress and tupelo swamps, is ideal for kayak and SUP exploration. The city’s Uptown District has 35 independent restaurants and three breweries.
Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
The Lehigh Valley has soccer roots that run deep. In the early 20th century, the Bethlehem Steel Football Club was one of the most successful professional soccer teams in the country, winning a slew of titles and becoming the first American professional squad to play in Europe.
Today, the Lehigh Valley remains home to a rich soccer culture and an assortment of venues to attract both youth and senior events, says Michael Kuzy, director of sports travel marketing for Discover Lehigh Valley.
The Lehigh County Sports Fields, which include eight full-size fields and two short ones, host multiple regional youth tournaments, Kuzy says. The facility has a pavilion for concessions and three fields are lighted for night play.
Meanwhile, Lehigh University also can accommodate club and high school tournaments at Ulrich Sports Complex, where the school’s varsity teams compete, and at its array of practice fields. The Ulrich Sports Complex, which seats more than 1,200, has lights and access to concessions.
In addition, Grange Park and Bicentennial Park in the area offer smaller facilities with fields suitable for youth contests.
The Lehigh Valley has family-friendly attractions, including the Dorney Park amusement park, the Crayola Factory and Steel Stacks, a 10-acre campus dedicated to arts, culture, family events and community celebrations.
“Our location is a big selling point for us,” notes Kuzy. “We’re a convenient destination for millions of athletes, and we’ve got great venues. There’s also a little something for everybody to do here, including for parents.”
An illustration of the support for soccer in Lincoln is its status as birthplace of the American Outlaws, supporters’ group of the U.S. soccer teams. The city is also home to multiple facilities that make it a suitable destination for large tournaments.
Speedway Village has nine grass fields and frequently plays host to sprawling tournaments. The complex includes a 100,000-square-foot indoor turf facility with a high-performance training gym and an interactive trampoline park.
For large crowds, the University of Nebraska’s Barbara Hibner Soccer Stadium opened in 2015. The 3,000-seat facility features state-of-the-art electronics and a striking view of downtown Lincoln. Derek Bombeck, sales development manager for the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau, says Lincoln hopes to leverage its American Outlaws connection to bring one of the U.S. national youth teams to the stadium for an international friendly.
Two YMCA complexes, Wright Park and Spirit Park, also host a range of local and state soccer competitions on their 15 fields, including an annual 200-team competition.
Bombeck says Lincoln’s downtown, particularly the Railyard Entertainment District, is proving popular with both visitors and locals.
“Once we get people to Lincoln and they see the vibe that we have in this community forming around supporting their events, they really get on board with coming back year after year,” Bombeck says.
Panama City Beach, Florida
Panama City Beach is poised to make a major splash as a soccer destination.
The Panama City Beach Sports Complex will open in the summer with 13 full-size soccer fields (nine turf, four grass), which can be transformed into 26 fields with a youth layout. Each of the fields has lights for night games. The 200-acre parcel is located just 1.5 miles from the beach and includes tournament buildings, a vendor row and boardwalk, and onsite concessions. Championship fields for soccer have a 1,500-seat capacity.
Chris O’Brien, director of sports marketing and special events for Visit Panama City Beach, says the complex can host everything from training events to large-scale soccer tournaments. A 100,000-square-foot indoor facility is in the works for an adjacent property.
Panama City Beach’s tourist-friendly location features a robust population of hotels, motels and condos, as well as a variety of attractions that include Wonderworks, a science-based entertainment center; a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum; Shipwreck Island Waterpark; and two state parks. Water sports are widely popular in the area, O’Brien says.
“Our destination is truly one built on tourism and although a small town we have capacity for huge events,” O’Brien says.
Prince George County, Virginia
Prince George County in Virginia has made itself known as a new destination for local and regional soccer clubs looking for well-maintained fields and a hospitable atmosphere.
Prince George opened five new soccer fields at Scott Memorial Park in 2017, and the facility hosted its first tournament in November. The tournament featured a collection of youth teams from nearby communities. At the entrance, the complex has a large pavilion with picnic tables and a playground. A concession stand at the soccer fields is in development for 2019, though Yoti Jabri, economic development specialist for Prince George County, said the park also has accommodated mobile food trucks for events.
“Prince George County welcomes soccer tournaments to our community, just like the Skalsky Soccer Tournament held last year,” says Percy C. Ashcraft, county administrator for Prince George. “We have the ideal setting to accommodate tournaments while making it fun and enjoyable for families. We are looking forward to a planned outdoor adventure park locating next to the soccer fields in 2019.”
Jabri said Prince George hopes to take advantage of its location in the Richmond metro area and proximity to Virginia Beach, Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley to attract youth soccer clubs from across the region for tournaments. Scott Memorial Park is located near Interstate 295.
The area offers visitors a range of historical, cultural and entertainment attractions. Among Prince George’s chief points of interest are the Petersburg National Battlefield and the Appomattox River Regional Park, which features more than 60 acres of wooded trails and a canoe launch.
Wicomico County, Maryland
Wicomico County is rich with soccer resources. Three major facilities offer a variety of options for staging large soccer events.
The Mid-Atlantic Youth Sportsplex is a 52-acre facility with five full-size Bermuda grass fields and two full-size tall fescue fields. The complex also includes a climate-controlled clubhouse, a picnic area, parking for up to 900 vehicles and a building for team registration and check-ins.
The county is also home to the Crown Sports Center, a state-of-the-art, indoor/outdoor sports complex. Soccer events can utilize five indoor turf fields and one multi-surface court. Crown’s outdoor fields have space for up to six Bermuda grass fields. In addition, the venue houses such amenities as batting cages, a roller-skating arena, laser tag, an arcade, playrooms and concessions.
Finally, Salisbury University’s soccer complex has a seating capacity of more than 500 in bleachers, with space for hundreds more around the field. The facility features an enclosed press box, a sound system and electronic scoreboards.
Niki Wheatley, director of marketing and public relations for the Wicomico County Recreation, Parks, Tourism and Civic Center, says Wicomico County offers visitors a host of activities related to its proximity to both the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Nearby attractions include the Assateague Island National Seashore, the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and the Ocean City Beach and Boardwalk.
“Wicomico County is not just a beautiful Mid-Atlantic location – it’s a convenient one,” says Wheatley. “Wicomico County is less than a three-and-a-half-hour drive for 25 percent of the U.S. population and within two-and-a-half hours of Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.” SDM
The New Home for Soccer: Panama City Beach Sports Complex is Hosting the Nation’s Top Events
Panama City Beach and the entire Southeast region are already looking forward to summer 2019 when the world-class Panama City Beach Sports Complex opens. Managed by Sports Facilities Management, Panama City Beach Sports Complex features 13 rectangular fields including nine with artificial surfaces and two championship fields with seating for up to 1,500 spectators. The facility is the ideal venue for all outdoor sports, including soccer events of all sizes.
After hours, teams and families can visit Panama City Beach, the original Real. Fun. Beach. with 27 miles of sugar-white sand beaches and family-friendly accommodations, restaurants and attractions.
The word is already out. Panama City Beach Sports Complex will host over 700 soccer teams and more than 15 tournaments beginning this August, including the Soccer Youth All-American Series-Summer, Gatorade Showcase and Junior Cup, Snap Soccer Presidents Cup, Emerald Coast Invitational, Panama City Beach College Showcase, Soccer Skills Unlimited: PCB Memorial Day Cup – and a multitude of others.
Visit www.playpanamacitybeach.com to learn more.