RALEIGH, N.C. — With over a billion fans, and over 240 million participants across the world, soccer is the most popular sport on the planet.

Its popularity in the United States continues to grow with over 800,000 high school students reported playing soccer at public schools.

In North Carolina, the sport is growing in popularity thanks to the efforts of North Carolina FC Youth, a soccer organization that prioritizes growing the sport and making it financially accessible for anyone who wants to play. 

What You Need To Know

  • Aven Alvarez is a junior in high school who is commited to UNC Chapel Hill
  • Alvarez is part of the NC Courage Academy team, which competes under the NCFC Youth soccer umbrella
  • NCFC Youth distributes over $400,000 in financial aid money to families each year to help support the cost of playing soccer
  • Anyone can apply for financial aid by heading to the NCFC website

Aven Alvarez started playing soccer with North Carolina FC Youth at 13 years old.

At 17, she’s one of the top college soccer recruits across the country, committed to play for UNC Chapel Hill this coming fall. However, Alvarez’s journey to become a soccer star wasn’t always so promising.

She grew up the oldest of four, as part of a family that loves soccer. The Alvarez family is from the Fort Liberty area, as the father serves in the United States military.

Soccer in the Fayetteville, North Carolina area isn’t as competitive as it is in the Triangle.

To help not just Alvarez, but her three other soccer-loving siblings get better at the sport, they moved to the Triangle and joined the North Carolina FC Youth family.

“Huge honor to be a part of this club and team,” Alvarez said. “It’s always really competitive and super fun. Definitely look forward to coming out here every single day and spending the time with my teammates and learning from the coaches.”

Alvarez’s father was a semi-professional soccer player around the country before he joined the military.

It’s no wonder that passion for the sport was passed down to Alvarez, an outside back (defense) for the NC Courage Academy team.

Like many American teenagers in the sport, her goal is to play on the largest stage possible. 

“My goal is to one day represent the United States National Team on a full team level,” Alvarez said. “Both domestically and internationally, and I’d love to play professional soccer post-college.”

It’s not out of the question, considering Alvarez is committed to play for the Tar Heels, a school that just supplied the No. 1 overall pick in the latest NWSL Draft. The No. 2 overall pick in that draft was also a Tar Heel.

In its 50th year serving the Triangle, organizers with North Carolina FC (NCFC) Youth said they know how important soccer is to kids and families.

Everything NCFC Youth has done has set Alvarez up for success, including helping with the cost that comes with playing a high level of competitive soccer.

Forget cleats and shin guards. The price to join a competitive club team, such as the NC Courage Academy team, is $2,000. With four kids all playing soccer, help was needed to get Alvarez on the pitch.

“While being part of the financial aid program has meant a lot to us, we would still be involved in soccer at some level,” said Laura Alvarez, Aven’s mom. “She would always rather go without something than think we have to buy something for her. So I think it makes her really proud to know she’s earned this herself.” 

Aven Alvarez said she owes her current skills and abilities to the coaches she had while playing for different academy teams in the past.

The current head coach of the NC Courage in the NWSL, Sean Nahas, was once Alvarez’s coach at the academy level.

Without NCFC’s help, there’s no guarantee she would have had that opportunity to learn from Nahas.

Success stories like Alvarez’s are why NCFC Youth said it's dedicated to making soccer financially feasible for anyone who wants to play the game at that level.

“We don’t want there being any barriers to kids being able to play,” said Chief Marketing and Development Officer with NCFC Youth Katharine Eberhardt. “You know, in the case of the Alvarez family, the husband is serving our country, and so, single-parent household for the next six months, and so for us to be able to support that family, for the kids to come out here and have some normalcy, that’s what this is all about.”

NCFC Youth distributes over $400,000 in financial aid each year. That aid money can cover costs for items like cleats and balls to the club fees mentioned before.

The aid can also help those who are trying to just play recreational soccer. Fundraisers, gifts and corporate sponsorships all contribute to making NCFC Youth’s goals possible.

“For us, it is about making it easy, it’s about making it accessible and making sure there’s no red tape, there’s no 10,000 clicks to get through everything,” Eberhardt said. “You don’t have to share your life story to make sure your kid can play soccer. It’s about making sure there’s an easy opportunity and easy access for families.”

If you or someone you know needs help in paying for your child to play youth soccer in North Carolina, you can head to this website and seek financial aid from NCFC Youth.