Wake FC minor-league soccer coming to Holly Springs
There’s a clear path from the USL League Two to the professional soccer ranks.
Wake Futbol Club has added a men’s and women’s team to compete in the USL League Two in Holly Springs this summer, the third at that level in the Triangle and one of four League Two clubs in North Carolina. Since 2010, more than 70 percent of all the picks in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft have played in this developmental league.
League Two is the third level below MLS in the U.S. soccer pyramid. USL Championship and USL League One are above League Two. North Carolina FC, based in Cary, competes in the USL Championship and also has a League Two club. Tobacco Road FC, based in Durham, competes in the same division with Wake FC and NCFC.
“This is a chance to give our kids an opportunity to reach their dreams, not only at the collegiate level but beyond,” Wake FC president David Allred said.
The Wake FC men’s team opens its schedule on Saturday (7 p.m.) against the Greensboro-based North Carolina Fusion at Ting Stadium in Holly Springs. The women start their season at home on Sunday (7 p.m.) against the Fusion.
Both teams train at the $19 million athletic complex, which opened in 2015, in Holly Springs. Ting Stadium, which is also used for a summer college baseball league, will be configured for soccer. The field turf surface inside the stadium has removable pitcher’s mound and gives the soccer club a 2,400-seat home for its two teams.
Allred, a standout goalkeeper, helped NC State reach the national semifinals of the NCAA tournament in 1990. A Raleigh native, he had a long pro soccer career before he got into coaching. Allred helped start Wake FC in 2011. The club membership has grown to more than 2,500, at which point Allred said the next logical step, in terms of development, was to add the USL League Two teams.
The teams in USL League Two are mostly composed of college players. They aren’t paid so they can retain their NCAA eligibility. Between the men’s and women’s sides, Wake FC will feature players from Duke, N.C. State, North Carolina, LSU, Indiana, UNC Asheville, UNC Wilmington, Campbell and Appalachian State.
The men’s team will play a 14-game schedule with the playoffs set for July. The USL League Two teams can advance to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament, which mixes and matches all levels of U.S. soccer.
Stephen Basso is the coach for the women’s team, which will have an eight-game season.
The Wake FC men’s team, coached by Gary Heale, will have help from two veteran professional players — Ty Shipalane and Cristiano Dias — who are youth coaches with Wake FC. Shipalane was the one of the top goal-scorers for NCFC (and previously the Carolina Railhawks) and Dias, from Brazil, had a long pro career as defender.
Allred hired Colin Clarke to be the general manager and run both the men’s and women’s teams. Clarke is familiar with the soccer scene in the Triangle, having spent the previous seven seasons as the coach at NCFC.
Clarke was eager to be involved in a developmental opportunity. The MLS will eventually select some players from League Two but there’s also the exposure of the youth clubs to a higher level of soccer.
College teams are loaning their players to the league, and in turn, the college teams will notice the club players. There will also be a chance during the season for the Wake FC youth players to fill in and play in League Two games this summer.
“The biggest thing for me is the game is in your blood,” Clarke said. “You love the game and you want to help kids and you want to help kids develop and get as far as they can.”