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Youth soccer players play for 'the big championship'

Posted June 20, 2008

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— The world's most popular sport has taken center stage in the Triangle this week.

The southern regional of the U.S. Youth Soccer Championship has brought 184 teams from 11 states to compete in games in Raleigh and Wilson stadiums through Wednesday.

"It's unbelievable," Bran Flanagan, coach of the Dallas Sting, said. "You have the absolute best kids. You have the best teams, the whole region. They're here battling for the big championship."

The battle among boys and girls between ages 13 and 18 for three regional championships also means thousands of visitors in the area – and a boost to the local economy.

Those visitors might spend "somewhere between 4 to 5 million dollars, so very similar to what the first and second round of the NCAA tournament does," said Charlie Slagle, with the Capital Area Soccer League, which sponsored and helped organize the tournament.

"You've got 184 teams. All 184 are staying at hotels, all of them are eating dinner, lunch and breakfast at different places," Slagle continued.

Amid the 350-plus soccer games, parents and players said they have been finding time to enjoy their trip.

"We spent a lot of ... downtime, just because the girls need to rest between games," Sara Yoakley, of Tennessee, said. "Shopping was good for us."

"Today, we went and toured your city market and the artscape area, I think it's called. That was enjoyable," said Linda Joseph, the parent of a player from Louisiana.

"I was able to take my younger daughter to the mall and keep her busy," parent Larry O'Mahoney, of Louisiana, said. "And we spent a lot of time swimming in the pool, so that's been about it."

With all that activity, though, tournament participants said they are not losing sight of their goal: earning the right to move onto the national championship in Little Rock, Ark.

"Really, it's been with the team for the most part, just going everywhere with the team, doing things with the team, trying to keep it together," O'Mahoney said.

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