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CASL, TFCA to merge, reform as North Carolina FC Youth

Posted March 10

— Since Steve Malik purchased the Carolina RailHawks in October 2015, he’s repeatedly referenced his newfound function of being the “point of the spear” for the North Carolina soccer community. His efforts over the past 16 months include rebranding the RailHawks as the North Carolina Football Club (NCFC), bringing a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) club to the Triangle, and submitting a bid for a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion team.

Today, the spear became much longer and sharper. The Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) and Triangle Futbol Club Alliance (TFCA) will merge into a single youth soccer organization that will rebrand as North Carolina FC Youth. The changes will become effective pending formal approval by each organization, with a full transition to take place this summer. North Carolina FC Youth teams will sport the North Carolina FC crest beginning this fall.

CASL, founded in 1974, is one of the largest and most renowned youth soccer organizations in the country. When coupled with TFCA’s participant base, the newly formed NCFC Youth will service over 13,500 youth and their families. Moreover, it will make NCFC what the club calls “the largest youth-to-professional soccer club in the country.”

At a minimum, this enlarges North Carolina FC into a fully vertical soccer club, with recreational and developmental soccer opportunities spanning all age groups and genders. This alliance also includes CASL’s U.S. Soccer Boys Development Academy, previously branded the Capital Area RailHawks Development Academy. The boys Development Academy will now be called “North Carolina FC Academy.” Meanwhile, CASL’s newly formed U.S. Girls Soccer Development Academy will be branded the “NC Courage Academy,” integrating the name of the area’s new NWSL team, also owned by Malik. Members of both the boys and girls Development Academies will collaborate with the North Carolina FC and NC Courage professional teams, respectively.

To compete in youth soccer in North Carolina, a league must be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. From a technical governance standpoint, TFCA will be absorbed under CASL’s current 501(c)(3) nonprofit charter, which will in turn operate as a new, single nonprofit entity called North Carolina FC Youth. That new entity will be governed by a single board that will comprise representatives from CASL, TFCA and North Carolina FC.

“We are incredibly excited about this collaboration we’re about to enter,” said Gary Buete, CEO of CASL. “For 43 years, CASL has been committed to providing the best youth soccer development through the full-service model. What this does for us is create that pyramid that goes all the way from top to bottom.”

“This decision was not taken lightly,” said Marlow Campbell, Executive Director of TFCA. “Many conversations, phone calls, conference calls, and meetings took place. Our membership is why we’re doing this. When we took several steps back and looked at what would be best for our membership, overwhelmingly we came to the conclusion that joining forces with CASL to become North Carolina FC Youth was the right decision.”

All participants in NCFC Youth will receive automatic membership in North Carolina FC, expanding its membership roll to over 20,000. There is not an additional fee for this membership apart from participation in NCFC Youth. However, Malik sees other ancillary financial opportunities associated with this collaboration.

“For example, we think we’re offering a tremendous opportunity for jersey sponsorship,” Malik said. “Say, if you want to reach into a club with over 14,000 players, not to mention relationships with parents and all the eyeballs who watch their games.”

The merger also affords a pooling of coaches, facilities, and other resources. Buete says CASL already funds participation in its boys and girls academies to 55 percent of expenses. He hopes that this merger into NCFC Youth will further a progression towards full funding and an end of the “pay-to-play” model.

Diagramming the ways this integration and rebrand impacts North Carolina FC’s MLS bid almost smacks as reductive. However, the establishment of a robust youth soccer apparatus is relevant to MLS, which has stressed and devoted untold resources the past decade towards helping its individual clubs develop youth soccer academies. Unlike the other 11 MLS expansion bidders, North Carolina FC now has a unified, fully functional soccer academy in place before it even has an MLS team. If North Carolina FC is granted an MLS expansion team, the members of NCFC Youth will instantly become part of the MLS youth pipeline.

Malik admits that the consolidation announced today was something he began discussing soon after he purchased the RailHawks in October 2015.

“Was putting the MLS bid together an impetus? Sure,” Malik said. “At the same time, you’re not seeing us make this announcement January 29 [prior to the MLS expansion bid application deadline]. We took our time to make sure that we had an inclusive conversation and that the boards of all the respective parties felt really good and not like they were making a leap of faith.

“We think this is going to distinguish ourselves as an expansion candidate for MLS,” Malik said. Nobody has a soccer pyramid like this that goes from youth to professional,”

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