Soccer: Popular Culture
28 Apr, 2013By: Peter Francesconi
How popular is soccer in the U.S.? Here’s an interesting stat: An ESPN Sports Poll says there’s at least one soccer player in 30 percent of all American households. That same poll says soccer is the second most popular sport for those in the 12- to 24-year-old age group, and that within a generation, soccer will be as popular in America as baseball and basketball.
In the U.S., according to the FIFA Big Count, there are 24 million youth and adult soccer participants. The U.S. Youth Soccer Association has more than 3 million players between ages 5 and 19; the American Youth Soccer Organization has over 300,000 players 4 to 19; and the United Soccer Leagues has nearly 1,000 teams and tens of thousands of players between ages 13 and 20.
There also are health benefits associated with the game; research published recently by the American College of Sports Medicine shows soccer training can improve cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure and increase aerobic fitness.
Every year, as more Americans become exposed to the sport, it gathers more and more momentum among youth and adult players. Local clubs and organizations, including schools and park & recreation departments, promote soccer play in every corner of the U.S. All of this attention has led to some excellent soccer fields and facilities throughout the country.
The Elizabethtown Sports Park opened in July and scored an immediate goal with both sports participants and their families. The state-of-the-art park boasts 11 fields (nine natural grass, two synthetic turf), and importantly, all the fields are lighted, extending the day so tournaments can virtually double the number of games they can play.
“Soccer teams have given us rave reviews,” says Janna Clark, the sports and sales director for the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau. And no wonder. The 157-acre Sports Park has everything necessary to host a great event. In addition to the fields, there are three large pavilions for ceremonies and events, eight restroom locations (including six with “family” restrooms), six full-service concession stands and ample parking for cars and buses.
The park also has wi-fi throughout, so soccer organizations—and proud parents—can send results out quickly, post scores and share photos. Parents also find that keeping track of younger siblings is much easier because of the playground situated right next to the fields. Plus, says Clark, Elizabethtown itself is a “very family-friendly, very value-friendly” community.
“Because soccer is such a popular sport, we’re hosting very large youth tournaments,” says Sue Harshbarger, the director of sports sales and development for Eugene, Cascades and Coast Sports. “Nearly every high school and middle school have at least one turf field and one or two grass fields, so we have ample fields to accommodate tournaments.”
A new event hosted by the Eugene Metro Futbol Club, the EMFC adidas Premier Cup, will be held July 12-14 and is expected to field at least 130 boys’ and girls’ teams, Harshbarger says. “Sports planners who have used our facilities are very familiar with what we have and the many areas they can use, both turf and grass fields.”
Besides the extensive fields at schools, soccer is very robust at the 97,000-square-foot Willamalane Center for Sports and Recreation, which has two lighted turf soccer fields. Lane Community College, home of the EMFC, has three turf fields, and Kick City Sports Park features two indoor soccer fields (one full size, one mini).
“We’re a destination city for sports,” says Harshbarger. “There’s so much to do here for families: visit the coast, go rafting, fishing, hiking, etc. There’s something for everyone.”
Greensboro, North Carolina
In North Carolina, Greensboro is a Mecca for soccer, in large part because of the beautiful—many would say “immaculate”—Bryan Park Soccer Complex. “It’s truly amazing,” says Greensboro CVB marketing director Amy Scott.
The 40-plus acres have 17 Bermuda grass fields (four lighted), which are for game use only to maintain the surface to perfection. The complex also includes the 3,000-seat, European-style McPherson Stadium, which has locker rooms and concession area and is home to Greensboro United. For team training and games, there’s also the Smith Soccer Complex, also managed by Greensboro United, which has three lighted, full-size artificial turf fields, bathrooms and concession area.
Bryan Park, which offers spring, summer and fall tournament opportunities, hosts many regional and national events, including the U.S. Soccer Academy Summer Showcase. “Recruiting takes me all over the country and I’ve seen some excellent facilities,” says Wake Forest University assistant coach Carson Porter, “but I can honestly say that Bryan Park is the best place to play youth soccer in America.”
Greensboro, known as “Tournament Town,” isn’t satisfied if it’s not constantly striving to improve, so there’s a capital improvement campaign going on now to make Bryan Park even better.
Soccer continues to grow in Laredo. The city has a number of facilities available, says Joel Vazquez of the Laredo CVB, among them the 4,000-seat Dustdevil Soccer Complex at Texas A&M International University, not only home to the Dustdevil men’s and women’s teams, but also to the professional Laredo Heat, one of the top teams in the USL’s Premiere Development League, which helps to keep interest high in the community. The well-maintained grass field is equipped with state-of-the-art lights for night play, too.
The Laredo Independent School District maintains many other fields, including three stadium soccer fields that can seat from 3,000 up to 8,000 spectators. The city has other soccer fields available, too, including the Slaughter Park sports complex with three fields.
The CVB helps tournament directors and event owners with anything they may need, from finding the perfect facility for their event, to finding hotels, discounts at local restaurants, providing welcome bags for participants, and more. “We service the whole group, from start to finish,” says Vazquez.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The metropolitan Oklahoma City area has two large soccer facilities, suitable for all types of competition. The North Oklahoma City Football Club at CB Cameron Park has 18 fields, 10 of them full size, with four lighted practice fields. The South Lakes Soccer Club Game Complex offers 11 full-size fields along with practice space and additional fields.
Both facilities are in the process of raising money to add lights on more of their permanent fields, says Holly Shelton, manager of sports development for the Oklahoma City CVB. Both complexes host large events, including state and regional tournaments. The North OKC facility, for instance, will host the Red Earth Invitational in the spring, attracting 130 teams from Oklahoma and surrounding states.
Oklahoma City is an attractive destination for families, easily accessible by air and highway, with 16,000 hotel rooms and restaurants to suit any budget. There also are plenty of options for entertainment, museums, and more.
Overland Park, Kansas
The Overland Park Soccer Complex features 12 synthetic turf fields, each with an in-ground cooling system and tournament-quality lighting. There’s also a 16,000-square-foot field house with offices, meeting rooms, and a fully-stocked first aid room. Since opening in 2009, the complex has played host to hundreds of tournaments including the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships, which is coming back in July and will expand from 60 to 88 teams.
Last year, Livability.com named Overland Park the No. 1 Soccer City in the country, in part due to its close proximity to 5,200 hotel rooms, 250 restaurants, family-friendly attractions and central location in the heart of Midwest.
There are several unique attractions either next to or minutes from the Overland Park Soccer Complex, including the 12-acre Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, which features hundreds of animals and fun activities, the beautiful 300-acre Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, the largest indoor mall in the region, and opening in 2014, the Museum of Prairiefire, which will feature rotating exhibits from New York City’s American Museum of Natural History.
The largest soccer facility in Rome is the 64-acre YMCA Grizzard Park Sports Complex, which offers 10 fields of various sizes, four with lights, along with seating for fans, restrooms, concessions and a meeting room. All the fields are grass, says Scott McCreless, executive director of the YMCA, “So we have the ability to turn the fields whichever way we need to.”
McCreless says Grizzard Park has hosted a number of tournaments in the past, including college showcases and college games. “We can offer one-venue shopping,” he says, “since we can offer a large number of fields at one complex, so we can host a lot of games at one site.” Another soccer venue in Rome is the Darlington School, which has three fields.
Rome is centrally located between Atlanta, Chattanooga and Birmingham and offers a small-town atmosphere with attractions to suit all visitors, along with plenty of restaurants and hotels.
South Sioux City, Nebraska
For three months in 2011, the facilities in South Sioux City were under several feet of floodwater, says city parks director Gene Maffit. Since then, however, all the fields have been rebuilt and reseeded, and now the Jeff C. Dible Soccer Complex, located right on the Missouri River, offers 15 natural grass fields.
“This will be the first year they’re back and fully functional,” Maffit says, “and we’re looking to have a good year. Everything will be new.” The city is planning to add more shade shelters and continues to replant trees.
The Dible Soccer Complex is part of the 133-acre Scenic Park, which offers many other activities. The South Sioux City CVB can assist in all aspects of an event, including securing room blocks, guest services and assistance with the event itself. For families, there’s plenty to do in the area, from water parks to camping to educational historical sites.
The main facility in Topeka is the Sunflower Soccer Complex, which offers 11 full-size grass fields capable of being split into smaller fields. The complex is home to the Governor’s Cup Invitational tournament each fall and spring.
“We’re also in the process of improving this facility,” says Jennifer Muse, the sports sales manager for VisitTopeka, “with a $4 million improvement that will increase the complex to 16 fields.” Also part of the plan is a championship lighted field, more parking, concessions and reception areas.
Hummer Sports Park is a multi-sport facility that includes an artificial turf lighted soccer field, 2,000-seat stadium, locker rooms, concessions and more. The venue has hosted state high school championships and National Junior College Athletic Association national and regional events.
Off the field, the Topeka area also offers many attractions for visitors and families, including the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, Kansas History Museum, Old Prairie Town, the Kansas State Capitol, and the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
In Winston-Salem, the Twin City Youth Soccer Association’s BB&T Soccer Park, situated along the Yadkin River, features 12 Bermuda grass fields, along with a field house offering multi-media classroom/meeting rooms, a team classroom, concession areas, locker rooms and more. The stadium field seats 1,400, with hillside seating for an additional 1,000 spectators. Two additional fields also have tiered hillside seating.
The BB&T facility has wireless internet throughout, so uploading results is fast and seamless. There’s a filming tower for recording games or training sessions. For player and spectator comfort, water stations are located throughout the park, along with outdoor misting stations during hot weather.
Winston-Salem has attracted soccer teams from across the East Coast and Canada. Along with the BB&T complex, soccer facilities also are available at the Sara Lee Soccer Complex (six regulation fields and eight smaller fields), the Hine Park Soccer Complex (seven fields), and Wake Forest University, among other venues.