May 24, 2006 - The marriage between the CDO Soccer Club and Charlton Athletic United States Soccer Academy appears to be over a year after uniting for the first such soccer league of its kind in the United States.

Charlton, a professional club team playing out of the English Premier League, informed the board of directors of the split via e-mail on April 24, stating it has formed as its own club within the Pima County Junior Soccer League.

"Both sides have to point the fingers at themselves as much as they point them at the other guy because there were a lot of things that should have been done during the year that hadn't been done on both sides to alleviate the end of the year position that we've found ourselves in," said CDO Soccer President Mark Stratton.

While Stratton says the divorce was mostly due to financial reasons, Charlton coaches don't discount the move as being geographical.

"We found it difficult to attract some of the central talent in Tucson," said Charlton coach and Director of Community Programs.

The split is not official yet. The two sides are attempting to hash out a working agreement. A decision is expected within the next month but in the meantime, CDO isn't standing idly by. The club has struck a tentative deal with the Tucson Soccer Academy and Foothills Futbol Club to merge its leagues.

Tucson Soccer Academy has long been regarded as the premier league in the Tucson metro area, attracting the top talent away from both CDO and Foothills. The deal would preserve CDO as a club and allow it to work closely with TSA coaches and instructors. Players would continue to play for CDO, but would have the opportunity to fill out positions on TSA's club teams whenever new spots open up.

"It's kind of a training ground to develop those kids at a recreational, semi-developmental level and then those better players moving on to TSA," said Stratton. "What our dream to do with both Foothills and CDO is that they will find a place for kids to play at either Foothills or CDO, depending on where they live, so that they can still work within the program and as they improve, still have a chance to move up to the TSA level."

Before this year, TSA only had teams for players 14 years old and up. Now the club starts at 11 years old.

With Charlton, CDO saw its enrollment numbers slip last year. A few reasons led to the deflated numbers including the Amphi School District's new policy of not allowing informational fliers to be distributed at the schools and Charlton's slowness in naming its coaches before the tryouts.

Should the divorce become official, both clubs could be in a battle to attract players. Both Charlton and CDO believe they will have a full team returning when the season resumes in the August, but that remains to be seen considering that the same players are being coveted by both clubs.

Christie estimates that Charlton's current enrollment is around 200 kids. No matter what happens, Charlton is trying to change its image within the Tucson-metro area.

"The impression is that Charlton is a big bully trying to take over Tucson soccer," said Christie. "That couldn't be further from the truth. We want kids to enjoy and get better at soccer."

FIFA, the governing body of international soccer voted Charlton as the No.1 club in the world for community programs. The merger with CDO was the first of its kind in the United States and since then Charlton has added international soccer academies in Ohio, Georgia, Canada and Panama.

The difficulty many of the 15 club teams in the greater Tucson area has is securing fields throughout the county to serve as the club's home. Charlton has received invitations and commitments for two fields, one at Rillito Park and the other at Sportspark in Marana.

Despite its regular club play, Charlton is starting a school league for 6, 8, 10 and 12-year-old age divisions for kids who just want to play soccer without the competitive stigma that club soccer can produce. The league, expected to begin in September, will require nine or 10 boys or girls from each school to compete against other elementary schools in its district. Charlton has agreements with the Catalina Foothills, Marana, Sunnyside and Tucson school districts and is looking to expand into Vail. Each school team would play within its school district and have several travel games a season, heading to other school districts. The club would also like to add a cup tournament pairing the district's top teams against each other. All teams and games will be coached and refereed by parents and not the professional coaches of Charlton.

Teams within a district that Charlton is affiliated with are eligible for the club's after school program, in which the professional coaches come out to the schools and promote the sport to the kids. The program has already been installed in some schools with Marana and its 11 elementary schools serving as the club's "flagship" program. The program runs in six-week blocks and has seen a return of 50 percent of the kids to additional programs, said Christie.

The program was installed last year and was designed for the kids just to have fun with the game. This September, when the program returns, Charlton will step up to a structured curriculum teaching kids fundamentals.

"We're looking to get more specific," said Christie. "Maybe find a kid who wants to play competitively but not taking it away from the kid who just wants to exercise."

Club soccer will take a respite for the summer and re-emerge in early August with registration. Where CDO and Charlton stand will remain to be seen.

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