Virginia State Cup: Bright new day as VYSA introduces Virginia Soccer Training Center
FREDERICKSBURG, Va. – The complex’s synthetic-turf fields won’t be done until next spring at the earliest, the headquarters building itself is still years away and the showcase stadium site remains just a soccer field-shaped hole in the ground.
But those were all minor footnotes on Saturday, as the Virginia Youth Soccer Association welcomed 32 State Cup semifinalists from across the state to its new home in the midst of Spotsylvania County’s rolling farmland and Civil War-era battlegrounds.
State Cup finals weekend represents the Virginia Soccer Training Center’s public debut, a major milestone on a decades-long road to plan, fund and build a facility for the state’s largest and – despite a flood of new competition in recent years – most established youth soccer organization.
“It’s very exciting to be able to do it as part of really what is the biggest event in Virginia, the state semis and championships,” Phil Summers, VYSA’s new executive director, told SoccerWire.com. “I think it’s a great way for all these top-level teams and coaches to see the facility for the first time. From a marketing standpoint, it’s great.”
This weekend’s matches are taking place on five of the venue’s six Bermudagrass pitches, which are already fading into their winter dormancy but have grown in nicely, and will go into full use come spring.
When completed, the field complex will also include two floodlit, all-weather synthetic-turf fields, two small-sided fields, two side areas for warm-ups and a showcase stadium with natural grass and bowl seating which looks to be comparable to the Maryland SoccerPlex’s Maureen Hendricks Field.
And the crowning feature, the headquarters and locker-room building which VYSA officials have described as a “living room” for the Virginia soccer community as a whole, will come last, pending sponsorships, charitable donations and other funding sources.
The guiding idea behind the Virginia Soccer Training Center: A gathering place for everyone in the state’s large – and often fractious – youth soccer landscape.
“From our standpoint, this is really for the players and coaches in Virginia,” said Paul Shaw, VYSA’s director of coaching education, in a conversation with SoccerWire.com. “It’s a central location that not only will bring leagues together – different parts of the state can play here – but for coaching education. It’s a premium location to bring in national courses and other events to support coaches.
“It brings the different communities together – we all come into the same location with the VYSA logo on, if you want to call it that way. For players and coaches, this is really their home.”
The whole concept was conceived in tandem with Fredericksburg FC (formerly known as the Fredericksburg Area Soccer Association), the local club which led the way in acquiring the land from local developers and building its own complex of natural-grass fields right next door. Fredericksburg FC Park opened months ago and while it’s a separate facility in name, it shares parking lots with the VSTC and could co-host events in the future.
“It’s nice that the state has a home now. It’s been what, 30 years, 35 years, in coming?” said veteran Loudoun Soccer coach Randy May on Saturday, noting the practicality of VYSA’s arrangement with FFC. “It’s a partnership that’s positive for the state of Virginia.”
Besides State Cup matches, the VSTC will host ODP, coaching and referee education activities and – it’s eventually hoped – tournament events and training camps for national teams and visiting professional clubs from around the world.
But more immediately, it’s a centrally-located gathering place for VYSA’s prime constituents, and a tangible sign of that organization’s plans for a brighter, bolder future amid a crowded youth soccer marketplace.
“It really is about the kids,” said Summers, a former NFL and Cablevision executive who was named VYSA’s first ED earlier this year. “We remain a not-for-profit so it is a little difficult to compete in this [youth soccer] environment, but I think we’re going to do a hell of a good job with it, and this place is going to help us a lot.”