By Scott Adamson
Asheville, North Carolina, is known for spectacular fall colors, a year-round Bohemian vibe, and a community that embraces diversity.
Yet while it’s one of the nation’s top tourist destinations, this beautiful mountain region also has a rich history when it comes to The Beautiful Game.
This summer, the Asheville City Soccer Club women’s team hopes to add to that history.
Asheville City SC debuted in 2017 with a men’s entry in the National Professional Soccer League. This season its brand extends to the Women’s Premier Soccer League, with Stacey Enos guiding the fortunes of the fledgling squad.
“Asheville has UNC-Asheville, Mars Hill, Warren Wilson College and Montreat College, and not too far away is Brevard College and Western Carolina University,” Enos said. “I have found more alumni are staying locally after they graduate from college. The active outdoor lifestyle, mountains and eclectic views of our town is appealing to anyone interested in recreation and play.”
Enos is well aware of the soccer tradition in the area – especially since she is a part of it.
Enos was a member of North Carolina’s three NCAA championship teams during her days as a Tar Heel from 1982-86, and went on to play for the first United States Women’s National Team.
Her coaching career started at the University of Seattle in 1994 as an assistant, and she became head coach of Utah State in 1996.
Enos made her way to western North Carolina in 2001 when she took the reins of Warren Wilson College – coaching the Owls for 17 seasons.
It was during her playing career, however, when she learned just how important soccer was to Asheville.
“Personally and historically speaking, back in the 1980s when I was playing for UNC, we played in a match against Warren Wilson College,” Enos recalls. “While the women’s team was relatively new, their men’s team was impressive and well-known throughout the state. Additionally, Asheville hosted an indoor tournament called the Tournament of Friends, which started in the 1970s. It became one of the longest standing indoor tournaments in the country (35 years). It brought players and teams in from all over the country and put Asheville on the map for soccer.
“Now Asheville has a strong youth organization, and a great adult league. Both organizations host tournaments that bring in thousands of participants every year and notable tourism revenue to our city.”
Last season the Asheville City SC men developed a strong following, averaging 2,000 fans for home matches at Memorial Stadium with the South Slope Blues supporters group leading the cheers and the chants. Enos hopes her club will be able to inspire the same kind of enthusiasm.
“The men’s team had a good variety of supporters last year,” she said. “Fans can get a ticket to a game and have a beer and food for $15. The same holds true for a family and their budget. The atmosphere was alive and festive, and everyone feels welcome.”
The WPSL is considered the top developmental league for women’s soccer in the United States and Canada, and with more than 100 clubs across North America, it stands as the largest women’s league in the world.
At its core is a grassroots approach to the game, which helps develop strong ties between communities and their teams.
“Fans want something they can get behind, and every player wants an audience,” Enos said. “When our fans get rolling they are the 12th man on the field. Their enthusiasm elevates the level of play and gives players the extra leg they need to turn themselves inside out for the victory. In this sense, we’re all part of the team that contributes to the good of our community. Seeing a fan wearing his or her ACSC hat, scarf or shirt around town brings a sense of pride and ownership.
“For our region, the WPSL has a strong conference in the Carolinas, and it was a natural fit for us.”
The club has already made two high profile signings ahead of the 2018 campaign.
Midfielder Lydia Vandenbergh, who played professionally for the Chicago Red Stars and collegiately at Clemson, will be a key member of the inaugural squad.
Also on board is former Florida and USWNT U-23 and U-20 midfielder Parker Roberts.
The final roster will include a mix of talented veterans and younger players.
“Over the years, I’ve found that my underlying role and goal as a coach is to empower these young women to be the best they can be,” Enos said. “I do like possession soccer, and as a forward converted into a defender, I’m a fan of the 4-3-3 system. Having said that, your squad personnel often dictates your strengths and weaknesses. A coach needs to have the tactical awareness that plays into their strength. I also enjoy creating space for players to have the freedom to be creative when they play soccer.
“I want my players to be able to solve tough decisions with the ball at their feet.”
The season begins on May 5 at 7 p.m. when ACSC hosts Chattanooga FC at Memorial Stadium. For season and single-game ticket information, go to ashevillecitysc.com.
Next week: The ACSC men’s team gears up for its second NPSL season.