CORNELIUS – Even if you aren’t affiliated with the North Mecklenburg Soccer Club, you’ve likely seen a minivan or 20 with the black-and-red, shield-shaped magnet on the bumper.

The club has over 3,900 members of girls and boys ages 4 through adult, hailing from Denver to Concord and everywhere in between.

“Our club is a nonprofit, but we look at what we do as professionalized youth sports,” Executive Director Thomas Finlay said. “Gone are the days where you’d play in your own little neighborhood and all you get is a T-shirt.”

But those little shields are changing to reflect the organization’s new name: The Carolina Rapids.

The change is a rebranding effort in collaboration with the Colorado Rapids soccer organization, the 2010 Major League Soccer Cup champions.

“Joining forces with North Meck is an exciting opportunity for us to create a player development model unique to the region,” Brian Crookham, senior director of youth development, said. “They already have a tremendous structure that keeps the best interest of each player in mind, and we’re looking forward to growing with their staff, players, administrators and parents as part of our Rapids Alliance.”

Finlay said the group made the decision after looking at the benefits for all the members in every program of the club.

“We literally sat there and went through each group and program and looked at what the impact would be,” he said. “For us as a club, we peeled back many layers of the proposed agreement and said ‘Is this an enhancement across the board?’”

Finlay said that the biggest impact on the club will be the access to advanced coaching education.

“Being a little nonprofit, we can’t send guys all over the world to see what the French are doing with their players and what the English do,” he said. “The Rapids organization does that.”

As part of the Rapids adidas Alliance, the Carolina Rapids will work with the Rapids staff to provide common coaching and parent education, and will receive administrative support from Rapids Academy staff who will be on site several times throughout the year.

The clubs will also work together on future business initiatives and provide players experiences on both the team and individual level.

The end game is not to train an army of professional soccer players, but to make the best possible experience for each member of the club.

“If you strip away this agreement, the ultimate goal is not to get a kid to play college or professional,” Finlay said. “The ultimate goal is learning how to work within a team, learning discipline, life lessons, how to challenge yourself as a soccer player, taking people outside their comfort zone and being part of a team.” 

Visit www.ColoradoRapids.com or www.northmecksc.org for more information about the new Carolina Rapids.

Carolina Rapids members by the numbers:

Charlotte: 10 percent (~390 members)

Cornelius: 19 percent (~740 members)

Davidson: 16 percent (~624 members)

Huntersville: 37 percent (~1440 members)

Mooresville: 4 percent (~150 members)

Denver: 8 percent (~300 members)

Other: 8 percent (~300 members)