What started as a team designed to provide quality training competition for top-level club boys teams has turned into a pretty competitive side in its own right.
CASL Elite will make its debut in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on Tuesday night, as the team based in Raleigh, N.C., hits the road to play the Charleston Battery of the USL Second Division in a first-round match.
The team was put together to train and play against the upper level Capital Area Soccer League youth teams, including the club’s CASL Chelsea teams that play in the US Soccer Federation Development Academy.
But with a wealth of talent in the area, it became clear that CASL Elite – using the same name as the club’s former USL Premier Development League side – could be beneficial for everyone involved. The youth teams get tough opposition, while CASL Elite players get the chance to continue to play at a high level.
“It was a dual purpose,” CASL Elite player-manager Scott McGuinn said of the reasons behind starting the team, which is in its first season and is made up of predominantly former CASL and USL players.
There are at least six former professionals on the roster, five of whom were active as pros last year: goalkeeper Chris McClellan (Wilmington/USL-2), defenders Evan Brown (Seattle/MLS) and Tim Merritt (Miami FC/USL-1), midfielder Steven Curfman (Wilmington/USL-2) and forward Jacob Coggins (Charlotte/USL-2).
CASL Elite’s other ex-pro will have the most impressive resume of anyone on the field Tuesday.
Scott Schweitzer won three championships and an Open Cup title during his seven-year career with the Rochester Rhinos, and was an all-league selection four times. A two-time league defender of the year, he retired in 2005 and started his coaching career with Raleigh Elite PDL – the successor to the original CASL Elite team – before coaching the Carolina RailHawks of the USL First Division in 2007 and ‘08.
The 38-year-old is an integral part of the CASL Elite team that went unbeaten to win the US Adult Soccer Association Region III tournament over Memorial Day weekend.
“He is our leader,” McGuinn said of Schweitzer, who also played two years in the French Third Division and eight seasons of professional indoor soccer. “His experience from participating in all of the prior Open Cup and professional matches truly carries a long way through our players and the way we approach the game.
“Whether it’s in training or on the sidelines, his approach is the same: Keep us organized and disciplined.”
That was key in the Region III final against Legends FC of North Texas.
Both teams already had secured Open Cup berths, but a spot in the USASA national semifinals was on the line. CASL Elite traveled with only 15 players for the tournament and one was suspended for the final because of a red card.
“We knew in the final we needed to be organized and disciplined – only to counter and get forward when we needed to,” McGuinn said. “Being that we have several players that are comfortable in many positions, it also allowed us to play players in spots where their ‘fresher’ legs would help.
“The gameplan worked to perfection. (Legends FC) tried to play fast and direct when they had the ball. We just kept it, made them chase and get really frustrated.”
Curfman, who spent 2007 with Real Salt Lake in MLS and 2008 with the RailHawks, scored the game’s lone goal for CASL Elite on a half-volley.
The team will make the four-hour trip south to South Carolina for a “Carolina Derby” against the Battery on Tuesday.
But a victory combined with a win by the RailHawks over the Charlotte Eagles would set up a “Raleigh Derby” against the RailHawks in the second round June 22.
“We want to be able to play and compete against the best competition available to us,” McGuinn said. “As far as the RailHawks, we think everyone on the team would want this one. It would be a tremendous opportunity for our community to come watch this potential matchup. There’s so many current and former ties between the two organizations.”