From the sideline

Column: Soccer complex just what eastern Wake County needs

July 6, 2013 

It would be cool if Knightdale became the home of a new, destination soccer field complex – one housing three lighted turf fields.

But it would be even cooler if eastern Wake County soccer teams were the primary beneficiaries of the complex. That’s looking promising at this point.

Knightdale is likely to pitch the idea of a such a soccer complex to Wake County, and local business Wake Stone is proposing a site – 130 acres of its land off Forestville and Old Crews roads. Mayor Russell Killen said the complex would cost $7-12 million and that the town would only commit to the project if the county provides much of the funding.

Wake County often grants funds generated by hotel and prepared food taxes toward similar projects that attract tourism. If Knightdale follows through and applies for a tax-funded grant, the county could choose to award the town all or part of the $6 million it has available this year.

If the plan becomes a reality, it would undoubtedly be a big score for Knightdale and potentially for the rest of eastern Wake County from an economic standpoint.

The Capital Area Soccer League appears to be on board with the project, which is big because CASL events draw in crowds from all over the country and keep area hotels busy. That could lead to more business and more hotels in Knightdale, which is already one of the fastest growing towns in the state.

But the town’s intention is not necessarily to increase the number of CASL soccer clubs. Killen said he hopes local athletics organizations can use the facility as well.

That would be bigger than big for a local soccer base that continues to grow its roots.

The East Wake Soccer Association doesn’t have its own home like CASL does at the WRAL Soccer Center in Raleigh. Neither does the Tri-County Soccer Club, the former Active Kids Soccer League. Both organizations have held their programs at various eastern Wake parks and educational facilities over the years.

The TCSC mainly focuses on player development, beginning with players as young as 2 years old, and is fielding competitive teams for the first time this year. Many of its players go on to play for EWSA teams in older age divisions. As a result, many products of both organizations go on to fuel the soccer programs at eastern Wake County high schools.

Darin Dixon, founder of the TCSC, says that’s a good reason why eastern Wake County needs a permanent soccer hub. A mainstay complex, he says, opens avenues for further success among the soccer programs.

“I want soccer in our area to make our high schools more competitive with others in the Greater Neuse (River 4A Conference),” Dixon said. “If we have more fields where we can play more soccer and we’re not having to rent the fields, we can field a better product.”

Nothing’s set in stone at this point in terms of who would get to use the facility, or how much – obviously, since the facility itself is still in idea form. But Nathan Bird, EWSA coaching director, said early talk has his group in the captain’s seat, while CASL would have some run of the facility for any tournaments they bring to town.

“It’s what we need,” Bird said. “We’ve got programs growing, we’ve got a good reputation, but you obviously don’t have a real good reputation until you’ve got a facility of your own. (The facility) is really a snowball effect for what you can do for the league.”

The EWSA and TCSC operate separately, but indirectly work together to furnish one product. They share a common goal and face a similar challenge.

While there’s no official talk of a merger of the two groups, thoughts of a permanent soccer space in eastern Wake has their leaders singing the same tune. Bird likes the idea of the EWSA and TCSC joining forces, while Dixon at least thinks the same of the prospect of the two clubs sharing a home site.

I’d consider those remarks good starting points for another conversation on down the road – regardless of how things play out with the Knightdale complex under discussion.

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