Story By Evan Oscherwitz
The Legacy Sports Park in East Mesa will be one of the most extravagant, state-of-the-art youth sports complexes in the western United States. The 320-acre development, scheduled for completion in January 2022, will feature facilities for eight different sports, an E-sports arena and a 15,000-seat concert venue among other things.
With the construction of the park underway, Legacy Sports USA has begun the process of finding local youth sports teams to occupy it. On Jan. 22, they announced a partnership with Arizona Arsenal Soccer Club that would make AASC the park’s flagship soccer program.
“It’s one of those things where the sky’s the limit,” AASC technical director David Belfort said. “We want to continue to develop. I want Arizona Arsenal to be at that level where we’re always just continuing to strive to be better and with the Legacy partnership, that goes into our mission and what we strive to be.”
We are extremely proud and excited to be partnering with @LegacySportsUS as the ANCHOR soccer club and for our future home!#bleedTEAL@ussoccer @theECNL @ECNLBoys @USYouthSoccer@AZSoccerAssoc @USClubSoccer @TopDrawerSoccer@TheSoccerWire @SoccerToday_USA @soccer_nation pic.twitter.com/e5onzhC5IO
— AZArsenalSC (@AZArsenalSC) January 22, 2021
After spending the past year scouting numerous clubs across the Phoenix area, Legacy Sports settled on Arizona Arsenal due to a number of factors.
The club’s location, connections to East Valley high schools and potential for growth set it apart from the other clubs in the area. The AASC organization currently consists of 77 youth teams, but Legacy aims to increase that number to over 100 in the next few years.
“Our job is to put their program on steroids,” Legacy Sports COO Jeff de Laveaga said. “There’s certainly clubs that send more kids to college and clubs that have more talent, but we weren’t really looking for that. We were looking for a size of an organization that we felt could be powered by Legacy and with 77 teams, we thought that would be a great place to start.”
AASC’s partnership with Legacy marks the latest development in a consistent upward trend for the organization. In the 12 years since Belfort joined the club, Arizona Arsenal has received ECNL (Elite Club National League) status for both its girls and boys teams, as well as a number of awards from US Club Soccer.
“I take pride in our evolution,” Belfort said. “We got the boys ECNL status four years ago and that was a major step for us, to now be competing on a national stage. The club has grown from like 35 to 70 teams, really almost doubled in size.”
As part of their strategy to continue Arizona Arsenal’s impressive pattern of growth, Legacy Sports plans to organize tournaments that pit AASC against high-caliber teams from all across the globe.
Both sides are optimistic that the heightened level of competition and opportunity to play against the youth programs of world-renowned teams will help the club attract talented players in the future.
“When you play in a Legacy tournament, you’re not going to play against the same teams you played against every weekend,” de Laveaga said. “You’re going to play against clubs that we’re bringing in from Texas to Chicago to Florida to New York, even over the pond.”
As attractive as these tournaments might be to prospective players, Belfort anticipates that the facility itself will be the biggest selling point. The partnership grants Arizona Arsenal full access to the park’s 35 soccer fields, indoor futsal center and an athletic performance training center run by Olympic champion decathlete Dan O’Brien.
“Facilities allow you to operate,” Belfort said. “Every kid wants to play on a good surface. When you have that scope and scale, the possibilities and the ability to run events and the programming you can do, the options are endless.”
Since the partnership was announced, Arizona Arsenal has already seen a notable increase in interest at the local level. In the last few weeks, Belfort has received a significant number of inquiries from players and coaches looking to get involved with the club, and that number will likely grow as the opening of the park draws closer.
While early returns point to a promising future for Arizona Arsenal, the club must avoid growing too quickly if it wants to preserve the quality of its on-field product.
The addition of new teams will require the addition of new players and coaches, and it will be up to AASC’s management team to ensure that they meet the club’s standards.
“My biggest fear is growing too fast,” de Laveaga said. “What I don’t want to do is jeopardize the quality which Arsenal delivers to their parents. If not finding enough coaches to make that happen limits our growth, I’m okay with that, but I think Arsenal is going to have the ability to grow to as big as they want to be.”
Only time will tell just how far Arizona Arsenal’s reach will expand in the coming years, but the club has its sights firmly set on becoming a national powerhouse.
A lot of work remains to be done in order to achieve that goal, but a world-class facility and the opportunity to play against some of the best club teams in the country will certainly help the club’s cause.
Through years of continued growth, AASC has established itself as a club on the rise, and its rise should only continue once it moves into its new home.