This year, the road to Argentina will go through Concord.
That would be the Olympic gold-medalist USA Volleyball men's national team making a stop at the Cabarrus Arena and Events Center to play a couple of games Friday and Saturday in the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) World League.
The Americans, ranked No. 2 in the world by FIVB, will face Egypt both days in Group C pool play. They are trying to qualify for the World League's final round in Cordoba, Argentina, July 21-25.
The U.S. men's team won the gold medal at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, the same year it won its only FIVB World League title since play began in 1990. The Americans finished sixth overall in 2009. The defending league champion is Brazil, which has won seven championships since 2001.
B.J. Evans, USA Volleyball's manager of media relations and publications, said nine of the U.S.'s current 19 players were on the 2008 gold-medal team, but only 14 players are selected to the active roster for each World League series. Players will be available for autographs after each game, she said.
Joining the Americans in Group C are Egypt, Russia and Finland. The U.S. opened league play with two matches in Russia June 4-5, then stopped in Finland for a couple of matches June 11-12.
After Concord, the U.S. will play Finland June 25-26 in Hoffman Estates, Ill., then travel to Egypt July 2-3 and return to American soil July 9-10 with matches against Russia in Wichita, Kan.
The four group winners will advance to Cordoba, along with host Argentina and the second-best team in pool play. The World League purse prize is $20million; the winning team gets more than $1million.
Local leaders think landing such a prestigious event is, in volleyball terms, a "kill."
"This event will define our movement to the next level, not only as a local player in hosting events," said Frank Lapsley, general manager of the Cabarrus Arena. "This takes us to regional and national recognition to show that our facilities and support network is comparable to other cities and regions our size."
USA Volleyball officials, who were looking at facilities that hold at least 5,000 people, visited Concord in February and announced in early March that the city would be one of three U.S. stops in its pool play.
"We had phenomenal fan support in both Wichita and Hoffman Estates last year," U.S. head coach Alan Knipe said in the March announcement. "So the team and I are really looking forward to returning to those cities. We are also excited about our new stop in Concord and bringing U.S. men's volleyball to a new region of the country."
FIVB volleyball is the second international sporting event Cabarrus County has hosted in the past year. In September 2009, the ITU Duathlon World Championship was held at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Lapsley said Cabarrus Arena will add the appropriate game-day staff, as it would for any event, but that USA Volleyball will handle the preparations of their own equipment, including their own court.
"We clear the floor; they bring their own stuff," he said. "These guys are all world-class athletes. You don't want to end someone's career because of a buckle you have in your floor. ... We will open the door, and they will lay all their stuff out."