Thursday, June 6, 2013

USL Pro Spotlight Week 11: The Charlotte Eagles - More Than Just a Soccer Club

Article By: Pedro Gomes

On the field, the Charlotte Eagles look pretty much like any other USL Pro team. They have a mixed-bag of both American and foreign soccer talent on the roster. They play at an intimate college soccer field at Queens University, which holds a capacity of around 5,000 spectators. And they go about their training and administration in a typically professional manner. But where the Eagle begin to look a bit different than any other USL Pro is off the field.

The Charlotte Eagles were founded in 1992 by two men, Brain Davidson and Rick McKinley, who envisioned not only bringing professional soccer to Charlotte, but more importantly to use Soccer as a platform to connect with the community through ministry. That core principle is still carried out today by all of the staff and players of the club and is guided by Mission Athletes International (MAI), the non-profit owner and operator of the club.

MAI's mission statement reads, "Our mission is to glorify God and see lives transformed by communication the message of Jesus Christ through the global environment of soccer". MAI is able to accomplish this mission by recruiting players for any of the 4 soccer clubs they own and operate  - Southern California Seahorses (PDL), Chicago Eagles (Local U-23 League), Lady Charlotte Eagles (W-League) - and training them in sports ministry.

Any player who signs a contract with the Eagles also incurs additional sport ministry obligations along with the typical professional Soccer obligations. Although, the club does not mandate that their players be Christian, it is these additional duties and the club's mission that typically attract a roster of devout Christians.

Some of the additional sports ministry obligations a Charlotte Eagles player can expect to take part in are; leading Chapel services, partaking in the Urban Eagles program, traveling on sports ministry missions anywhere in the world through MAI organized international friendlies, and running annual Youth and High School Summer soccer camps.

Of special note are the Summer Soccer Camps, as these are scheduled to commence on June 10, 2013 and run for 8 weeks until the beginning of August. These camps are run by Charlotte Eagles players as they are part of their contract obligations with the club. The players will run the camps typically from 8 AM through 4 PM Monday through Friday and follow that up with club training for a few hours in the evenings and still take part in their scheduled USL Pro matches.

This shows a tremendous amount of commitment by the players as they will essentially play the remainder of the USL Pro season putting in long hours of work even before any whistle blows in a competitive USL Pro match.

Another interesting difference between the Eagles and any other USL Pro team is that they do not allow any alcohol sponsorships of the club or do they allow the sale of any alcoholic beverages at their home games. This helps foster a very family friendly and family focused environment at the matches albeit at the expense of having any type of loud boisterous supporter's culture that is so prevalent in professional soccer culture. This doesn't seem to bother the players much as they understand that watching an Eagles match is intended to foster a sense of community that can be shared with all members of the family, both young and old.

The Eagles continue their USL Pro season on Friday June 14 at 7 PM Eastern, when they host the Chicago Fire Reserves of Major League Soccer. Win or lose the Charlotte Eagles know that the work they do on the field is only part of the work they charged with carrying out. The other half is working to improve greater Community through charitable Christian work. And I think if you were to ask any of the players on the team, they would say that with pride, in fact why not read their own words on their work.

Editors Note: Special thanks goes to Charlotte Eagles Forward, Ben Page, for lending me his time in order to help put together this piece and gain a player's perspective of what it means to be a part of the Charlotte Eagles and MAI.