When North Meck Soccer Club announced it would morph into the Carolina Rapids through a partnership with MLS’ Colorado Rapids, the Cornelius-based youth organization promised its athletes would reap the benefits.“It’s a professional sports organization, and they have so many resources we can’t compete with,” said Thomas Finlay, the Carolina Rapids executive director. “It’s good for us. It can open up opportunities for the kids.”That’s already showing, as some local players will travel to represent the Colorado Rapids at an international youth tournament while others will spend part of the summer vacation training in the Denver suburbs.Jake McMillen and Hayden LeRoy were expected to travel to Costa Rica this week to play for the Colorado Rapids’ 13-and-under squad at the Copa Saprissa tournament.“They’ve earned it,” said Finlay. “They’ve worked very hard and are great kids. They’ll be really good ambassadors for the club, but more importantly, they’ll have the experience of a lifetime.”He added that facing international opponents at San Jose-based Deportivo Saprissa’s facilities and being exposed to different playing styles should also benefit Jake and Hayden’s development.Carolyn Huddy, a Lake Norman Charter goalkeeper, and Kelly Flanders, a Hopewell forward, will also be traveling this summer, getting the opportunity to train with the Colorado Rapids U20 women’s team. The developmental team competes in the USL Super-20 League. The Carolina Rapids also have a senior women’s team that has played in the USL W-League since last year.Finlay said the experience will prepare Huddy and Flanders, who play for the North Meck Soccer Club ’95 Girls’ Red squad, for their soccer futures. Huddy, a recent graduate, has signed to play at UNC Wilmington, while Flanders, a rising senior, has already committed to play at Appalachian State.Four boys in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy program will soon be selected to train in Colorado later this summer. As part of the organizations’ agreement, the Colorado Rapids plan to take a group of top Carolina Rapids players each summer in hopes of molding them into professionals.“This is an opportunity for players to have their eyes opened to what professional soccer is like,” said Finlay. “It’s up to them to bring back what they saw and learned and implement it into their soccer lifestyle to help them be better players.”Although not all players will get the chance to travel with the Colorado Rapids, they will all see changes to the club’s curriculum.Finlay thinks having a fresh approach and a new set of expectations for each age group will make the club better.The club has also been busy remodeling its offices, leaving behind its old red and black colors for its new sky blue and burgundy scheme. The Carolina Rapids will transition to new uniforms featuring their new colors and logo within the next year. But not everything at the club will change.“As we grow, we have to stay true to the basic foundation of why kids play sport – to have fun,” said Finlay.The Carolina Rapids’ nearly 3,900 members will not be the only ones who benefit from the partnership, which is part of the 4-year-old Rapids Adidas Alliance that also features the Downtown Las Vegas Soccer Club.Club staff will travel to Colorado to learn what the professional team does with its youth program. The first professional development trip is planned for July.Colorado Rapids players and coaches will also come to the area to host clinics and events, including possibly bringing the MLS squad to train and play in Charlotte.Finlay is looking forward to what the partnership holds for the newly-branded Carolina Rapids.“There’s a lot of excitement around the club right now.”
Tuesday, Jun. 11, 2013
Carolina Rapids players see partnership pay off
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