CASL's Charlie Slagle: Full-service club provides many options

Interview by Mike Woitalla

The Youth Soccer Insider continues its series in which we ask the leaders of U.S. youth clubs to address key issues on the state of American youth soccer. Charlie Slagle is Chief Executive of the North Carolina's Capital Area Soccer League (CASL), a "full-service club" with 9,000 registered players. Before taking charge at CASL, which was founded in 1974, Slagle was head coach at NCAA Division I Davidson College, from 1980 to 2000.

SOCCER AMERICA: CASL is both a club and a league -- what you call a "full-service club." What’s the advantage of being such a large organization, with some 800 teams?

We have a recreational league and a middle league, which is called our Challenge League, and at the top level we have Classic teams.

We start seeing kids at 5 years old and they work all the way through. Once they start with us, more than likely they stay with us. Obviously there are exceptions.

The advantage is we don’t have to turn anyone away, ever. We can cut someone and they might not like it, but if we cut somebody from Classic, they can play in Challenge. If we cut someone from Challenge, they can play in recreational. We have recreational all the way up to under-18.

SA: So the setup creates a lower dropout rate?

I think it does. We have kids who are playing Challenge and they’ll try out for the next level up, but if they don’t make it, they have friends playing in the level below and a lot continue to play.

SA: Have you seen significant improvements in youth coaching?

It’s improved. A lot more of the parent-coaches, people coaching at the rec level and just above that, have played -- whereas 20 years, 15 years ago that percentage was a lot lower.

Now that there are so many people who played through high school or college, or even the club level up till they’re 13 or 14, they have an idea of what’s going on. With a little bit of training on the methodology -- not to have kids stand around – they know how to make practices and games fun.

SA: Will playing soccer continue to become more expensive or is any relief on the horizon? And what is your club doing to reduce or minimize costs?

Other than cost-of-living increases, soccer costs are probably not going to go up too much more.

The biggest thing is the travel and those taking the brunt of that are the very best teams.

We take in sponsors and our tournaments help out a little bit.

Our Chelsea sponsorship limits or pays for all of the travel of our U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams. We’re doing the same with the ECNL -- the national girls league – and trying to get more and more sponsorship and give that money back to the parents.

The more we can help them out the better. The less they pay the better as they decide between this club and that club.

SA: The Super Y-league, U.S. Club Soccer and the U.S. Development Academy have joined U.S. Youth Soccer in the youth arena over the last decade. Has the increase in options for youth clubs benefited America's young players?

Yes and no. At a club like CASL, we’re competitive nationally, we can pick and choose. ECNL for our girls and the [U.S. Soccer] Academy for our boys. Then our second teams and third teams fit very nicely in USYS or in U.S. Club Soccer.

We are mainly a member of North Carolina Youth Soccer and U.S. Youth Soccer, through NCYSA. We pick and choose and that’s where having soccer-savvy folks making the decisions is very important.

What actually hurts development is I don’t think we’re heading up the width of the pyramid and narrowing it down. I think that sometimes because there are too many options some of the best players are playing in situations where they’re not playing against the best players, therefore not getting as good as they could be. That may hurt us national team-wise.

SA: Should the U.S. Soccer Federation create a Development Academy league for girls as it did for the boys in 2007?

I would think in fairness, yes, but ECNL, which is a U.S. Club property, is doing it now and doing a good job of it.

Would it be that they take over ECNL? When the Academy came out [for boys] they started recruiting clubs and could do it. Now they would be recruiting clubs that are already playing ECNL, so there could be a bit a war going on.

SA: If you had a magic wand, how would you use it to improve youth soccer in America?

There would be one entity that controls everything and did a couple different things:

One, make it so the top players are getting sifted toward the top of the pyramid, so that all the top players are playing against other top clubs.

Two, I think our national teams are also hurt by the single-year age brackets. When you have a superstar at age 15 and have a chance to win the under-15 title, most clubs and coaches are going to keep that under-15 player playing in that age bracket. Whereas for his or her benefit it might be better to play in the under-17s, playing against bigger, stronger players, and they have to adjust their game and get better.

Having all these national championship at single-year age brackets – those kids don’t learn different roles. If they’re the star of that team, they’re going to be the star at 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18.

I wouldn’t mind seeing, not necessarily across the board, but some sort competition where 16 through 18, maybe 13-15, 14-16 on a team, and you have to have so many of each age on the team, sort of like the Little League baseball model where the younger players are on the field with older players. That would improve our players. …

The USSF needs to do something that gets us all going in the same direction for the common good, because if you leave it up to club directors like myself, we have to hang our hat on winning this championship or doing this or doing that. And I think we're tugging against each other too much.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at

4 comments about "CASL's Charlie Slagle: Full-service club provides many options".
  1. Robert Robertson, February 17, 2011 at 8:48 a.m.

    i enjoyed this article immensely. I always felt that the 'officialdom' should organize youth soccer rather than private clubs. The size of CASL is the size that I was thinking would make sense. NJ could be divided into 3 zones - with a wide variety of coaching styles incorporated into the teams. The current superclub structure as how it applies in NJ at my daughters age level artificially promotes the Superclubs rather than rewarding the diversity of talent in the state. Tournament and Regional directors consult private companies ranking services to slot teams from NJ into slots. There is no way to elect or challenge these rankings. However, if it was organized through the official bodies it would be more accurate. I also feel that major positions should be elected rather than appointed - the exact same people might be elected but at least there would be a little democracy in the setup.

  2. Gak Foodsource, February 17, 2011 at 10:53 a.m.

    Mike, this is a great idea. Keep the interviews coming. I'd love to see a specific question on what these club directors see as their biggest achievement. I'd also like to ask them why they have been unable to produce players of any merit after so many years and so many players? Do they blame the coaches, the system, the parents, the culture, maybe even themselves?

    With respect to this interview, the obvious problem with Charlie Slagle's magic wand solution is that youth soccer is dominated by physical size and speed from the ages of 12-17. Create teams that cover two or three age groups and you will have a team of the oldest, and most physical players. The smaller, and perhaps even the more skilled players, will be without a club.

    And second, on Charlie's response that we need to get the top players at the top of the pyramid so that they are playing at the top with other top clubs. He is making the dangerous assumption that we know which players are at the top, which will be at the top, and what the top even looks like. Every American soccer coach prides themselves on being an evaluator of talent, because it is easier to stand at a camp with a clipboard and tell parents that child A is more gifted than child B than it is to develop A and B into soccer players. If evaluating was truly your talent, Charlie, you and every other talent evaluator should move to England and make a living off your ability to tell top club teams who will make it and who won't. I'd love to see how long you all last when you get paid by the CLUB on your ability to refer talent as opposed to the PARENTS of the players you sign up for your club teams. U.S. soccer doesn't need a top youth league for our players and we definitely don't need any more talent evaluators., We need people who can develop talent. I will be the first to shake his hand when I meet him.

  3. Luis Arreola, February 17, 2011 at 11:43 a.m.

    GAK, you hit it right on the money baby!! The Top Academy Clubs in Illinois for example, where I am from, are in a constant and destructive race with each other to gather up the best players in their respective age groups. It is clear to me that most Academies concentrate solely on winning and ranks. If their players cannot help them achieve top status, they immediately replace them. Where is the developement in this? American culture is mostly about winning and you can see this even at the youngest ages. Top Clubs know this as a business and do what is needed to watch their business grow. We need to rank clubs more on the individual top players they produce, however small they might be, and glorify these achievements instead.

  4. Richard Garcia, March 3, 2011 at 3:14 a.m.

    Thank you for this insightful interview. In our area of Northern California the clash between NorCal Premier and CYSA couldn't be more adverse. It is supposed to be about the kids developing yet for entities as these it is more about protecting one's turf. We are seeing consolidation of clubs as they attempt to survive and compete against the "super clubs". It really comes down to the "haves and have nots". Keep pushing the discussion for change.

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