Wilmington soccer scene optimistic, excited as 2022 World Cup begins

Soccer fans in southeastern North Carolina are excited as the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team is playing in the World Cup for the first time since 2014.
Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 5:47 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Soccer fans in southeastern North Carolina are excited as the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team is playing in the World Cup for the first time since 2014.

The team played Wales to a 1-1 draw on Monday, but fans at Walk On’s Sports Bistreaux appeared happy to be able to watch the U.S. team in action on the world’s biggest stage.

“We missed it the last time and it’s good that we have a nice young team and it’s something to look forward to,” said Michael Pawlewicz. “And it’s great being, you know, we were just talking about earlier that, you know, everybody is a fan of the same team, so everybody’s cheering on the same team, which makes it great.”

North Carolina is no stranger to the soccer scene. The Wilmington Hammerheads professional team played in the Port City for around 20 years before disbanding in 2017.

It did not take long, however, for a new team to call the Carolinas home, as the new MLS team Charlotte FC debuted earlier this year, shattering league attendance records in its first match.

The World Cup, however, brings a different kind of energy, and fans like Pawlewicz hope the event brings a new generation of fans into the sport and is glad to see so many people tuning in.

“I think you’re starting to see it. I think you’re starting to see smaller camps and clusters of teams in different areas, and I think that’s going to funnel into it being a little bit of a more of a national pastime,” Pawlewicz said. “You see the MLS is doing really well with fans all over the place, so I think it’s just a matter of time.”

As far as the future of the Wilmington soccer scene, Carson Porter directs the Hammerheads youth soccer program and says the city plans to break ground soon on the new nCino sports park, which will bring turf, new fields, and permanent lighting to the complex.

He hopes children in the Cape Fear region watching the World Cup will be able to relate with the U.S. team which had one of the youngest cores in the world, with an average age of 25.

“I just want them to have heroes and have people that they watch and want to be like,” said Porter. “And if they do that, then that sort of sparks, you know, that sparks a piece of them to go out and do more. So I just want them to watch, enjoy, get out, get a ball around them, get outside. I mean, all these things that that the World Cup kind of generates.”

Porter says the World Cup can create the next generation of soccer players in our area.

“I think this inspires, Porter said. “I mean, that’s where it starts, I think, you know, the kids that are watching this, these games, you know, they go out and kick the ball, and then anything can happen. If you if you ask these players that are getting ready to walk out for our country, the idea of them playing in a World Cup was just a dream.”

Two former members of the Wilmington Hammerheads professional team are on rosters in this year’s World Cup: Marc-Anthony Kaye for Canada and Christian Bassogog for Cameroon.

A local group has announced plans to bring a professional soccer team back to Wilmington. To learn more, click here.