BOONE — Ask men’s soccer coaches David Strickland of the Tri-City Otters or Tobacco Road FC coach Cedric Burke if they would return for a friendly game at the Ted Mackorell Soccer Complex and they would gladly make the trip.
The two teams, members of the South Atlantic Division of the pre-professional USL League Two, entertained a crowd of 720 High Country soccer fans with a 4-4 tie on a partially foggy night at the first annual Ted Mackorell Soccer Classic.
On the field, the Otters found themselves behind 4-2 with less than 10 minutes left in the match only to score two goals to tie the game. The Otters’ Freddy Tracey scored the tying goal inside the extra time allotted for injuries and stoppages of play.
The Otters, who gave up a home game to play in Boone, won the crowd over with rousing ovation on the final goal. But, the crowd also showed support for Tobacco Road FC, which is based in Durham.
The match was made possible by the Boone Area Sports Commission, which with the help of Appalachian State men’s soccer coach Jason O’Keefe, combined to get the game played in Boone. The teams play each other in Durham on July 13 in the final game of the season for both teams.
Burke said his team was excited when it found out it would be playing in Boone. Not only is it a different venue, but it also took about 90 minutes off the team’s travel time to Johnson City, Tenn.
“It was for a really good cause and it expands the focus on soccer in this area,” Burke said. “It was a showcase game and we’ve had tremendous hospitality from the (Boone) Chamber and the Sports Commission and App State. We’re happy to be here and I told them I love to return.”
Boone Area Sports Commission Executive Director Roachel Laney was very happy for how the event turned out despite the constant possibility of rain that never materialized.
“I thought it was great,” Laney said. “We had a lot of families and children. The weather wasn’t perfect, but the stands were almost completely filled and we had a lot of people sitting on the hillsides. For a first-time event, you couldn’t ask for much more.”
The teams were made up mostly of players who are on college teams with some exceptions for players from overseas. Tobacco Road FC brought just 15 players, while the Otters brought several players who have Tennessee ties and one, French native Pol Vassart, who plays collegiately at Lees-McRae.
The players do not risk losing college eligibility if they don’t take a salary, which is similar to the semi-pro baseball organizations in the country. Many are hopeful that playing in the summer can sharpen their skills and possibly lead to a career in professional soccer much like their baseball colleagues.
Chris Madden, the director of the USL League Two and director of competition development, said it’s unusual for teams to give up a regular season home game to play at a neutral site, but felt that moving the game from Johnson City, Tenn., was worth doing.
“In this situation, it was unique enough for both teams to come play here, especially Tri-Cities, being close to Boone and obviously for the city of Boone to experience this game as well,” Madden said.
Strickland, who is also the owner of the Otters, praised the Ted Mackorell crowd for adding atmosphere to a game that proved to be fast-paced that led to several scoring chances. Tracey scored the Otters’ first goal in the 15th minute of the first half, but Tobacco Road FC tied the game eight minutes later with a goal.
Spain native Dario Pavon scored in the 38th minute to give Tobacco Road FC a 2-1 halftime lead despite the Otters controlling most of the possession of the first half.
“The crowd got a great show out of it,” Strickland said. “They got to see some exciting football from both teams with people scoring goals and a lot of ball movement.”
Strickland had two reasons to be disappointed. The tie severely hurt the Otters’ chance for a post-season game, and Strickland felt that his team outplayed Tobacco Road FC, but did not come away with a win.
“On the day, I felt like we were so much better, but we have to put goals away,” Strickland said. “At the end of the first half, they got two shots and they were up 2-1, and that’s on us.”