By Ryan Bailey

Local host families are joining the CLTFC family and helping young athletes chase their soccer dreams

CHARLOTTE — When Sporting Director Zoran Krneta first came to Charlotte, he stated his belief that the region boast some of the country’s very best future soccer talent: “If the Carolinas can produce Michael Jordan, I don’t see why we can’t produce one of the top stars in soccer.”

In order to unearth talent in one of the most competitive youth soccer markets in the country, Charlotte FC has established a Homestay Program, which offers a unique opportunity for talented young players to reside with a host family near the Academy training facility.

“The Homestay Program is an essential part of our Academy programming,” says Academy Manager Dan Lock. “Our mandate and mission is to get the very best players from our homegrown territory of North and South Carolina, as well as from the open territories around the USA. The Homestay Program allows us to house these players year-round and develop them within our Academy environment.”

Currently, six players across Charlotte FC’s U15 and U17 squads are living with host families—and they have been thriving in their new surroundings.

“My experience with Charlotte FC has been really good,” says U17 midfielder Jack Rodelli, who hails from Carrboro, NC. “I am really enjoying staying with my host family. I get along with them well and I have enjoyed getting to know them.”

Lucas Kelly, whose family is based in Wake Forest, NC, has also taken well to life in the Queen City. “I am having a great experience with my host family,” says the U17 defender. “They have really welcomed me into the family and make me feel as if I am one of them.”

For parents whose sons have moved to Charlotte, a bittersweet experience has been entirely positive thanks to the care, support and dedication of the host families.

“While we recognized this was a great experience, it was a very difficult decision to have our 15-year-old move away from home,” says Kelly’s father Robert. “Now, four months in, we couldn’t be happier. The club is always responsive and available, and we have been blessed with an amazing host family. We joke around that Lucas may not want to come home!”

Andy Martin, whose son Xander assisted a goal in Charlotte FC’s first-ever match at Bank of America Stadium, is also appreciative of the opportunities presented by the Program.

“The thought of sending our 15-year-old child to another city with another family was exhilarating with opportunity, heart wrenching with loss, but ultimately joyous based on our child’s experience thus far,” says Martin. “In addition to a great host family and excellent CLTFC staff, the support from local players and families is heartwarming. We are grateful for all of them, the bonds are deep, and the friends will be forever.”

The Homestay Program is proving to be a success for players who are seeking the ultimate goal of graduating to the first-team roster—and their respective host families are finding that their new additions are having a positive impact on their daily lives.

“The Homestay Program has been a great experience for us,” say Doug and Tiffany Richter, who are hosting Xander Martin. “Xander has taken on the role of big brother to our son James. He has been a positive influence, helping him establish life habits to organize his day, as well as routines to help him achieve his goal of playing for the Charlotte FC Academy.”

Bill Hawks, who is hosting U17 forward Ervin Cruz, also feels that hosting an Academy prospect has benefitted his family.

“Ervin is a very motivated, polite, and diligent young man, which has made it easy to integrate him into our home and family routines,” says Hawks. “Encouraging him to believe in himself and to take the professional mindset his coaches are teaching him has been fun for us. Having Ervin around is bringing out conversations about motivation and being our best — which has been good for me and my wife as much as it has been for Ervin.”

In addition to providing a welcoming home and nutritious meals, host families are expected to transport Academy players to training and matches. This serious commitment has been diligently met—and is convenient for those local families who already have a son playing in the Academy. Erin and Sharon Livingston, for example, are hosting their son Emmanuel’s U15 teammate Derek Powell.

“Emmanuel and Derek play on the same team, so travel to practice is a breeze and games are more exciting as we feel like we have two sons on the field,” say the Livingstons. “Having Derek in our home has helped foster better eating habits for Emmanuel, and we hope their friendship will grow beyond the Charlotte FC Academy and into adulthood.”

Academy prospect Julian Ramirez, meanwhile, is hosting fellow U17 prospect Kevin Jimenez. Julian’s mother Aliria describes the Homestay Program as a “life-changing experience” for her only child, who regards his teammate like a brother.

“When we have time to play soccer, Julian and I usually do one-on-one, since he is a defender and I am a striker,” says Jimenez. ”We both give each other feedback on what we need to work on to make ourselves better players.”

Charlotte FC welcomes applications for the Homestay Program from interested families throughout the year. Applications for the 2021-2022 season will start being processed in May 2021.

“We can’t thank the families enough for bringing the players into their homes and making them part of their families,” says Lock. “It’s a wonderful experience for all involved and helps us deepen the connection between Charlotte FC and the wider community.”