CHARLESTON – For the first time in 12 years, the Charleston Battery will not host the team’s Carolina Challenge Cup preseason tournament in February, club President Andrew Bell announced Monday.
“It’s a disappointment to everyone, but ultimately we decided that if we couldn’t deliver an event of the quality that soccer fans associate with the Challenge Cup, we weren’t going to call it the Challenge Cup,” Bell said. “We’re still actively engaged in negotiations to bring one or more teams to Charleston this preseason, but we will be treating those as individual exhibitions, not as a tournament.”
The staff has already begun discussions with potential MLS partners regarding the 2017 CCC tournament.
The original Carolina Challenge Cup in 2004 was a milestone in the development of professional soccer in the United States and pioneered the concept of a lower-division team hosting Major League Soccer opponents in a multi-team preseason tournament. The format offered MLS clubs a chance to train and tune-up in a competitive environment, while also showcasing top-tier American talent in a smaller market.
Interest in the tournament expanded over time. The 2015 edition sold out both its Saturday night doubleheaders for the first time in the event’s history, demonstrating the surging power of soccer’s new-founding popularity in the Southeast.
But while the Battery locked down one 2016 MLS partner early in the offseason, getting two more to commit became increasingly complex.
“Two of the clubs that expressed a strong interest in coming for 2016 wound up qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal round, and (the CCL schedule) was effectively in direct conflict with ours,” Bell said. “We explored options to accommodate one of those teams, but eventually agreed that it wasn’t going to work for this year.”
Battery officials spoke with counterparts from every front office in Major League Soccer, receiving indications of interest from roughly half a dozen. But as the registration deadlines for other preseason tournaments approached, concerns over filling out the remaining field began to complicate negotiations.
Ultimately, team officials decided it would be better to skip the 2016 tournament than to dilute the event’s reputation.