A year ago, the South Charlotte Soccer Club's Under-18 team was relatively unknown outside the metro area. Now, the team is known on the state, regional and national levels.
“I think the (U.S. Soccer Academy program) really puts Charlotte soccer on the map,” SCSA U18 head Coach Derrick Leeson said. “The whole concept of the academy gives thousands more kids opportunities to improve and showcase their talents.”
The SCSA team, one of 63 selected from across the country, finished second in the Atlantic conference with a 17-5-8 record. And 15 of the 21 players on the roster will play college soccer somewhere next year.
Seven signed Division I scholarships:
Owen Darby and Robert Probst are going to UNC Charlotte.
Andrew Bumgardner, Weston Brown and Nick Stemkowski with UNC Asheville.
Kyle Engle with Davidson.
Brandon Miller with UNC Wilmington.
And Garrett Filter also might play for Charlotte.
“The way we judge our success is not necessarily wins and losses, but how well we are placing kids at the next level,” said Leeson, who was a college coach at West Virginia Wesleyan, Campbell and Eckerd and a college soccer player himself.
“This year, we could not have done better. If we have that level of player coming through consistently, then the results will take care of themselves.”
Leeson has been right so far, as the team just completed an impressive June showcase run in Greensboro where they beat Major League Soccer's (MLS) D.C. United 2-0, tied MLS's Colorado Rapids (2-2) and tied the former national champion Chicago Magic (2-2).
“It was a crowning moment for a team that had a great year,” Leeson said “This team finished way ahead of even my expectations.”
Leeson said the showcases are played in front of at least 125 college coaches and U.S. Soccer scouts.
One of the players who probably will get a lot of attention is rising senior Donnie Smith, who attends Charlotte Catholic. He scored five of the team's seven goals at the June showcase. Smith is one of four players who will return to the U18 squad this coming season.
“He really came to the forefront,” Leeson said. “He really opened a lot of people's eyes.”
Also returning is Smith's high school teammate Nate Badke, who recently committed to UNC Charlotte, as well South Meck's Shotero Yoshida and Charlotte Christian's Will Kamin.
“The core of next year's team … will be great leaders,” Leeson said. “I think the future of South Charlotte Soccer Club is going to be phenomenal. I think the level of player we'll have is just going to get better and better.”
The SCSA U18 team, which had tryouts in May, will release its new roster in the next few weeks.
However, the team will not begin to practice for the coming season until November. The team, made of mostly high school juniors and seniors, takes the fall off so its players can play high school soccer and football.
Two of the team's standout players are also making names for themselves on the gridiron. Charlotte Christian's Will Kamin and Butler's Kyle Searles play for the SCSA U18 and are the kickers for their respective high school football team. Kamin, a rising senior, is being recruiting nationally for his football and soccer skills, while Searles, a rising junior, is just coming to the age where he can be recruited.