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United Soccer Coaches Convention returns to Baltimore: ‘It’s invaluable’

This year will mark the 31st consecutive year Kevin Payne has attended the United Soccer Coaches Convention. He’s learned something new at each one of the past three decades, and he doesn’t see why this year’s event in Baltimore would be any different.

"It’s the largest convention of coaches of any sport in the world, and it’s the largest soccer convention in the world,” said Payne, the CEO of U.S. Club Soccer, an exhibitor that will also conduct training sessions at the convention. “If for no other purpose than the community that it creates, it’s very, very important. There’s literally hundreds of organizations, vendors, all sorts of people who are involved in the game on an everyday basis that come together once a year.

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“It's invaluable. … Just the fact that there's so many people all together in one place, there's always an opportunity to learn something."

United Soccer Coaches hosts its annual convention in Baltimore this week, beginning Wednesday and ending Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center. The event, which includes more than 250 educational opportunities, draws in about 14,000 attendees and generates $15 million-$18 million for the host city, per the organization. Attendees must be registered, with on-site, one-day registration available for $180 Wednesday through Saturday and $70 Sunday. An exhibit-only registration is $20.

Representatives from Major League Soccer, Spain’s La Liga, FIFA and college programs will be among the presenters. The event is also held in tandem with the US Youth Soccer Workshop, which will hold its annual awards gala Saturday night at the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor.

“Even if you hang around on the periphery, you get to meet a lot of people who have spent a lot of time in the game at a variety of different levels,” Payne said. “It's a pretty exciting, energized place to be."

This marks the first time the convention has been in Baltimore since 2016, when United Soccer Coaches was known as the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. The next year, the organization changed its name and announced a multi-year deal that also has the convention in Baltimore in 2028 and 2032 as part of a rotation with Philadelphia; Chicago; Anaheim, California; and Kansas City, Missouri.

Payne was a longtime executive with Major League Soccer’s D.C. United before becoming U.S. Club Soccer’s CEO in 2015 and is familiar with the Baltimore area, one he thinks suits the convention well.

“Baltimore's a cool town,” Payne said. “It's a city of neighborhoods, and even though we're at a convention, which is a little bit of bubble, it's a pretty easy city to get away from that and experience the neighborhoods that make Baltimore what it is."

Inside the convention, members of the soccer community will reunite after a year apart, with those relationships often serving as a driving force for partnerships between organizations and vendors at the event. Exhibitors include sporting good companies, college recruiting websites and technological services, among others.

"The soccer community in America, it's not small, but it's fairly tight-knit,” Payne said. “Certainly those of us who have been involved for a long time have a lot of connections together, so for me, it's always very satisfying to see so many people that I've known for a very long time and who I respect for their contributions to our game, but I don't necessarily get to see them all the time anymore. It's always very gratifying to see people that you know have devoted their lives to the sport right alongside you.

“You can’t be involved in the soccer business in this country and not come to the USC Convention."

United Soccer Coaches Convention

Baltimore Convention Center

Wednesday-Sunday

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