BOONE — On July 9, the first annual Ted Mackorell Soccer Classic features The Tri-Cities Otters, who will play the Tobacco Road FC, which plays out of Durham, at Ted Mackorell Soccer Complex. The teams compete in the South Atlantic Division of the pre-professional USL League Two.

The USL League Two is league that could be a possible stepping-stone for players looking to break into professional leagues, such as Major League Soccer or possibly overseas. Both teams have several players who play on college teams either in the Southeastern United States, according to Roachel Laney, who is the executive director of the Boone Area Sports Commission, which arranged for the match to be played.

The Boone Area Sports Commission arranged for the two teams to meet on the pitch at Ted Mackorell. The game is one of the Otters’ home games that they agreed to move to Boone.

“They are mostly college or international players who are in the 23-year age range,” Laney said. “What they’re trying to do is to get recognized in order to make it hopefully into the MLS.”

Laney said the pre-professional USL League Two level was created two years ago as a league that develops soccer players with the goal of becoming professional players. According to its website, the USL League Two has four conferences with 74 franchises in the United States and Canada.

“It is relatively new, but it has taken off across the country,” Laney said. “It’s amazing how quickly it has become established.”

Laney said playing in the league does not break NCAA rules, so college players have an outlet to maintain their skills when not in season. He said the league is similar to wooden bat leagues that exist across the country.

“If you look at the roster, the Otters have players from Furman, East Tennessee State, Milligan and colleges from that area,” Laney said. “If you look at Durham, you see ACC teams. It’s a way for those players to play all summer.”

The Boone Area Sports Commission has been looking for events to bring to the area ever since its formation. The organization played a big role in attracting the Southern Conference Wrestling Championships to the Holmes Center, and started working on bringing a high-level soccer game to the area.

Laney said he had some contacts and started calling them through the High Country Soccer Council, which includes people from the High Country Soccer Association, Appalachian State, local high school and from the Watauga County Parks and Recreation Department.

Laney said Appalachian State men’s soccer coach Jason O’Keefe made the first contact with the Otters. Once communications was established, Laney took it from there and nailed down the final details.

“Once a month we all sit down and talk about soccer and what can we do,” Laney said. “With that committee, we were able to identify the Otters and they were willing to give up a home game to come here and play.”

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