To get an understanding of what has made Charlottesville such a soccer hotbed – both at the collegiate level and in the recreational leagues – flash back to the late 1970s. At that time‚ youth soccer was just beginning to take hold here at the grassroots level.
A handful of soccer enthusiasts of all ages were getting together for pickup games‚ and out of this rising interest the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle – widely known as SOCA – came into being several years later. At the University of Virginia‚ meanwhile‚ Bruce Arena was laying the groundwork for a soccer powerhouse.
Now the well-known coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team that competed in the 2006 World Cup in Germany‚ Arena was hired as the Virginia men’s head coach in 1978. He led the Cavaliers to five national championships (1989‚ 1991-94) before moving on after the 1995 season. Arena’s overall record at Virginia was an astounding 295-59-31 (.806). “Bruce Arena is the person responsible for putting our program on the map‚” says Craig Littlepage‚ U.Va.’s director of athletics. “He produced the level of players that has helped create (the Cavaliers’) level of success.” The Virginia women’s team has made a national statement as well.
As Arena was for the men‚ April Heinrichs was the catalyst for strengthening the U.Va. women’s program. She coached the Cavaliers from 1996-99‚ posting a 52-27-7 record before becoming coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team and leading it to a gold medal in the 2004 Summer Olympics. Steve Swanson took over for Heinrichs and led Virginia to its first ACC title in 2004. “Steve did a phenomenal job in bringing us to this point‚” Littlepage says. Neither of the U.Va. teams has to look far to find talented players‚ thanks largely to the efforts of SOCA. Having formed in the early 1980s‚ the organization provides leagues and programs for more than 3‚500 youth and adults each season.
“We’ve been blessed with a great board of directors and good leadership‚” says Bill Mueller‚ SOCA’s executive director. “Long before I was here‚ there have been good people making good decisions to develop programs that made sense for the community.”