National League boys ‘play through’ wintry weather for season kickoff

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The U.S. Youth Soccer Association’s prestigious National League might be advised to take up the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service given the inhospitable conditions awaiting teams for the league’s 11th season opener this weekend in Wilson and Rocky Mount.

Just like the aforementioned postal carriers, neither snow nor rain nor sleet caused the players on the 128 teams to miss any games at Gillette Soccer Complex, Fike High, Barton Outdoor Athletic Complex or Rocky Mount Sports Complex despite pelting rain and temperatures hovering around the freezing mark Friday.

“Yeah, we play through,” said National League Commissioner Paul Luchowski from the warm, dry confines of the field house at Gillette. “The people here in Wilson are great and have done a great job in improving the facility with the added drainage on the fields and the two new synthetic fields, so we can play through all the games at the complex.”

Indeed, the recent renovations at Gillette were timely with the blast of cold, wet weather that was not present at the National League girls opening weekend just last week.

“The last two days of the girls last weekend was shorts and T-shirts!” Luchowski marveled.

Wilson will be the only cold-weather stop for the National League, which will hold weekend tournaments at the end of December in the Orlando, Florida, area and in March in Las Vegas. Teams have to play in two of the three showcases but all the teams are playing in Wilson and Rocky Mount this weekend.

The games will continue in five age groups (14U, 15U, 16U, 17U and 18U) Saturday and Sunday with many of the nation’s top teams and players on display in Wilson, including five defending U.S. Youth Soccer age-group national champions. Out of of the 128 boys teams from 27 different states and 31 separate associations (several states have two associations), only two teams are at home: the North Carolina Football Club Elite 00 (18U) and Elite 01 (17U).

There are 16 teams in the 14U and 15U divisions and 32 in each of the 16U, 17U and 18U divisions. Luchowski said the National League will expand to 32 teams in all five divisions and add a 16-team 19U division in 2018.

Teams earn their way into the National League where they can compete at the highest level outside the US Youth Soccer National Championships. The top two teams in each division earn a spot in the national championships.

Some 200 college coaches were expected to take in matches over the weekend in Wilson, which has proven to be a great site for the National League season opener since it was first held here in 2010.

“This is a good location because so many teams can drive down from the East Coast or up from the South and don’t have to get on a plane like all the teams from California have to do,” Luchowski said.

And of course, the fields of Gillette, made even more pristine, are always a draw as well as the efforts of the Wilson Parks and Recreation Department, headed by director David Lee along with recreation manager Richard Frazier and parks manager Dale Edmonds.

“They just do an outstanding job with their staffs in supporting the event,” Luchowski said.