Manchester Soccer Series provides spark for town

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MANCHESTER — Sometimes all it takes is one event to liven up a town and the Manchester Soccer Series has been just that for the Town of Manchester over the past two years.

The Soccer Series returns for its third year, with Applejack Field set to host 20 college games between the spring and fall.

Applejack Field hosted a slew of games already this past spring with the University of Vermont men's soccer team playing there and a marquee matchup between Dartmouth College and the University of Albany, among other events, taking place in Manchester.

Thursday, Applejack hosts a women's soccer preseason matchup between Vermont and UMass Amherst. The two teams have met the past two years in the kickoff of the event, with the Minutewomen coming out on top both times.

Action continues August 26 with two more games, Southern Vermont College vs Castleton in women's soccer and Castleton vs MCLA in men's soccer. On August 31, Applejack hosts SUNY Plattsburgh vs Castleton and SUNY Poly vs SVC in women's soccer action. The next day Williams will take on Middlebury, with former Burr and Burton girls soccer player Georgia Lord returning home playing with the Ephs.

Applejack will host more collegiate games throughout September.

With the recent success of Burr and Burton's soccer programs, the sport is continuing to remain popular in the town and bringing in high-level soccer teams to play only heightens that.

"If you look at it from a soccer perspective, it's great. Bringing in an influx of top level college soccer for kids to watch, it really inspires them," said Manchester town manager John O'Keefe, who has been in the role since 2007. "This part of southern Vermont has recently suffered from a lack of youth, so bringing in 20 college games and having those kids walk around town and exposing them to Manchester and southern Vermont is a huge perk for us."

The event started out at as something to freshen up the town, but continues to make a major impact, especially on youths in Manchester.

O'Keefe remembers and email he received from Lord that showed just how influential this event can be.

"(Georgia) sent me an email a couple years ago that she was going to go Division I and when Manchester had Williams playing Middlebury, she fell in love with the Williams team and it changed the entire course of her life," O'Keefe said.

The success of the Soccer Series has allowed the event to expand and with it, has created the ability to improve Applejack Field.

"Last year, we bought a new mower, which allowed us to drop the height of the field of grass to around an inch, which soccer players love," O'Keefe said. "One-inch grass is really hard to find. It's like artificial turf, but when you fall on it it doesn't burn. With increased games, comes increased money, comes increased resources, it's a continuing cycle."

The UVM men's soccer team loved the facilities when they played there this past spring and will return for a preseason camp next week. The Catamounts are heading to an invitational at Duke soon and they needed a field with grass similar to the one they'll play on. Applejack provided just the place for them to simulate the feeling.

Applejack hosted a major New England youth soccer tournament last November and the profile of the facility continues to grow.

For something that started as something to give some juice to southern Vermont town, the Soccer Series has provided Manchester more than they could have ever imagined.

"We came up with a plan that we were going to host college games and we've seen all these interesting side things come off," O'Keefe said. "It's great to see that sort of success. It comes out of this idea that in order to grow your community and make it vibrant, you don't have to necessarily build something new. We had this existing structure and we made some improvements to it and we're seeing that facility go to the next level."

Adam Aucoin can be reached at aaucoin@benningtonbanner.com and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.


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