Trained to Make a Difference

“She is playing the best soccer I have ever seen her play!” – college coach, after watching one of his players near the end of the summer.

“First fitness test (in preseason) was the beep test, and I crushed it! I did better than my last year score by 10 rounds!”

These are encouraging reports from Eagle’s Academy players from this past summer – consistent with the way we approach the soccer aspect of the Academy. But they really pale in comparison with the transformational growth that we see taking place in the hearts and lives of so many of our Chicago Eagles Academy players!

The Chicago Eagles Summer Academy (CESA) completed its 12th season in 2015. Designed as a two-month sports ministry experience for collegiate soccer players, CESA15 challenged players to raise their level, and pursue excellence – both in their sport and in their relationship with Christ! It also gave them a taste of what authentic community is like, and of the impact they can have when they seek to glorify God through the game of soccer.

Over 30 men and women from 19 different colleges and universities participated this past summer in CESA15. During that time, they spent two weeks in Brazil (playing matches, running clinics for kids, and working with churches), coached at ten soccer camps with close to 1,000 campers, trained and played in the Illinois State U23 league (with only one loss total for both teams), worked with under-resourced youth, served local churches in the Chicago area, met in small groups and studied our sports ministry curriculum – and seasoned everything with tons of laughter and fun!  Two of our players also chose to be baptized this summer! And still another finally came to the point, during our time in Brazil, of giving her heart and life to Jesus Christ!

Several of our players, while serving as coaches at our Eagles soccer camps, had the chance to lead some of their campers to Christ! Twelve of our players participated in our student leadership program, leading the camps and various other events. Most of those student leaders, along with a few other players, have returned to serve as captains of their collegiate teams.

During the Academy, we also had the opportunity to train several players and coaches from various countries - Brazil, Turkey, Cuba, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, and Thailand.

Our hope and prayer is that as all of these players and coaches return to their colleges and countries, their love for Christ will continue to grow, and that God’s Kingdom will continue to grow through these influence of these young men and women!

Charlotte Eagles Swing a Hammer!

This article is written by Hannah Turner. Hannah is a MAI’s missionary in Charlotte working with the Lady Eagles W-League team and is married to Habitat in Humanity Site Supervisor, Josh Turner. Josh and Hannah have been married for 3 and a half years after meeting in college during a semester abroad in Tanzania, Africa. Hannah was introduced to MAI in college when she spent two seasons with the Chicago Eagles. This began the journey of being trained as a sports minister. Soccer since, has become a journey to Ethiopia, Brazil, Kenya, Costa Rica, Colombia and now Charlotte watching lives transformed through the power of the Gospel. Josh and Hannah believe in the power of community and what it means to build relationships with the people in and around your life at home, work, neighborhood, church, and ministry.


Missionary Athletes International is a community that reaches far beyond the soccer world. Recently in March, the Charlotte office staff spent a day framing a house for a Habitat for Humanity homeowner. Lots of 2 by 4’s, hammers, nails, solid corners, ladders, bathtubs, pizza, laughing and missed nails filled an incredible day. It was neat to work alongside the staff we see all week at the office and out on the field, but in a much different capacity.  Construction muscles are much different than soccer ones!!


One of the highlights of the day was working alongside Vincent and Bahati a young married couple that are refugees from the Congo. It was incredible hearing about their long journey the past five years from the Congo to a large refugee camp in northern Tanzania where they met, married and started a family.  Three years ago they made their way to the States and the transition into our fast paced culture hasn’t been easy.  Vincent and Bahati are in the beginning process of applying for a Habitat for Humanity home. 

The time spent framing the second story townhouse were the beginning of their “sweat equity” hours which is one of the qualifications as they pursue more permanent and affordable housing for their family.  MAI’s connection with Habitat in Charlotte comes through site supervisor Josh Turner who said, “It has been an honor working for Habitat the past 3 years in Charlotte. My current role is to coordinate the materials, plans and inspections that go into building a home as well as leading the volunteers that come out and serve at my sites.  It’s amazing watching a house come to life when many hands work towards the goal of providing a new home for a family in Charlotte. My job with Habitat and the chance to serve the community is a huge blessing.”  


It was an amazing experience to work together as an office in a different capacity to help well-deserving people acheive the dream of bettering their lives in America.


Power Glory and Ministry
Bilal Duckett is looking to grow as a soccer player and in his faith with the Charlotte Eagles.

“I joined the team for two reasons,” Duckett said. “First, I grew up a Christian.”

The Eagles (5-10-3) are the only USL Pro team dedicated to Christian ministry, particularly through soccer camps that gives players time with kids in a Christian setting.

Duckett, a defender who is in his first season with Charlotte after playing with Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, recalled that several children gave their lives to Christ at a recent camp, which is something he enjoys playing a part in. In such settings, Duckett is able to encourage younger generations to “dream bigger.”

Charlotte’s other draw for the Macon, Ga., native was the opportunity to play center back, as he has traditionally played right back. Duckett models his style of play after several players, such as Brazilian defender Marcelo and Vincent Kompany of Belgium.

“He has made great strides at that position and is becoming a force there,” Eagles head coach Mark Steffens said, adding the Notre Dame graduate’s athleticism is a “gift from God. He is very quick and has blinding speed.”

At 6-foot-2, Duckett’s height makes him ideal for set pieces—corner kicks or free kicks, which give him the opportunity to press forward for a chance to get shots on goal. His composure and confidence is evident on the field in tight game situations, which as Steffens noted, make him a “strong role model that … younger players look up to.”

Steffens believes that if Duckett “continues to improve at this rate he will be one of the premier center-backs in the USL.”

Duckett took up soccer at age 4. “I played soccer, basketball and baseball until I was 13,” he said. “Actually I gave up baseball around 11.”

While basketball was his first love, Duckett’s family encouraged him to pursue soccer. They follow the English club Arsenal and Duckett has competed against former Arsenal star Thierry Henry, who plays for MLS’s New York Red Bulls.

If the opportunity presents itself, he would like to return to MLS, where he was drafted 37th overall in 2011 by the Vancouver Whitecaps, or play in Europe. Regardless of where he is, he considers himself “supremely blessed,” and looks to use his gifts both on and off the field.

When he pulls on his jersey, Duckett plays for God and  family, particularly his grandmother who recently passed away. Playing with the Eagles has put Duckett closer to his family than at any time since he left home for Notre Dame.

“Playing soccer is my dream,” he said. 

Tracing the Roots, the History and the Legend of 
the Seahorses
“The Foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom…”

If you ask Seahorse founder Dave Irby where the idea came from for the Missionary Athletes International Seahorse soccer team, he likes to say “it came from the first chapter of Corinthians, more specifically verse 25.”

                         “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

One of the pioneers of the “soccer ministry” movement Irby goes on to say “if God can use a ‘cone’ like me to minister around the world for him, he can also use a Seahorse.

Irby grew up in Anaheim, California in an era before cell phones and laptop tops, before “soccer moms”, when soccer was still on the fringe of “the mainstream” in the United States and the US National Soccer team (in a time when there was virtually no women’s soccer) was chosen “alphabetically” by a committee that had not seen many of the players even play.

Even when Seahorse founder Dave Irby, first played soccer on the first soccer team at Azusa Pacific College, “it was still a time when people thought you had to be ‘crazy’ to be a goalkeeper.”

“So it is only fitting that it was a goalkeeper who thought that “Seahorses” would make a good name for a soccer team, a name that later Irby would use for the first Missionary Athletes International soccer team. 

As Irby likes to say “it was truly the ‘foolishness of God’ that brought about the founding of the Seahorse team back in 1985.

It was a sideline encounter between Azusa Pacific Men’s Soccer Coach Dave Irby and Biola University Soccer Coach Tim Conrad that began a relationship that would eventually lead to the founding of the Southern California Seahorse Soccer Team. Irby had taken his Azusa Pacific Soccer team to Mexicali to the men’s and boys’ team over spring break and during the summer Conrad had taken his second Sports Ambassadors, Christian college “all-star” soccer team, on tour. 

On that trip to Mexicali Irby began to sense a calling to “soccer” ministry, after spending his upbringing being afraid that if he fully trusted Christ, that God would make him a missionary.

That next fall just before the “big game” between Irby’s Cougars and Conrad’s Eagles Irby remembers going to Conrad and saying “If you take a team on a tour next summer I would like to go with you, I will even go as the ‘water boy.’”

Well the next summer Irby coached the “Soccer Friends” team that Conrad put together, to Jordan, Israel, West Germany, Austria and Holland; and it was in the little town of Amstetten, Austria that Irby knew that he was called to soccer ministry.  It was also on this trip that Irby also made a lifelong friend- Paul Gizzi, who was player/assistant coach on the tour.  

While Conrad concentrated on building MAI’s high school tour and soccer camp program and his fulltime job as a travel agent Irby was working on putting together a professional Christian all-star soccer team to travel to Jordan and Egypt.  

 Up until that time most USA based Christian soccer teams wore “red, white and blue” and were promoted as being “American”, which was clearly a “novelty” in the soccer world, in an age before soccer was popular in America.

But after four men representing the Palestine Liberation Front hijacked the MS Achille Lauro cruise ship off the coast of Egypt killed Leon Klinghoffer, it became too dangerous for an American team to travel to the Middle East.

After the trip to Egypt and Jordan was cancelled, Irby presented the idea of radically moving away from the “American” theme for MAI, and starting a team under the MAI banner called of course “the Seahorses” and putting them in the color “orange,” with MAI founder Tim Conrad.  Conrad said “go ahead”…and the Missionary Athletes International Orange FC Seahorses soccer team, later to become the Southern California Seahorses was born.

Irby chose “Orange’ for the city of Orange and for the new colors of the team “orange, navy and white” and of course FC for the international designation “Football Club.”

Irby likes to add one bit of trivia to the founding of the team.  On the Seahorses first international tour to Mexico (and the World Cup), Guatemala and Costa Rica the team not only wore orange, they also had an all green uniform.

So many wonderful coaches, leaders and players have now worn the “kit” of the Orange FC Seahorses and the Southern California Seahorses and so many lives have been changed as the teams have gone boldly forward sharing the gospel around the world, not only under the Seahorses banner but with many other organizations as well.  Many “off shoots” of the Missionary Athletes International concept and the Seahorse program would be founded, carrying the gospel on to more places around the globe. 

Note:  Dave Irby is the CEO of Surge International, a sports ministry based in Salem, OR.  For more information on the activities of Surge International, visit their

We Are What We Do?
Playing professional soccer for Major League Soccer (MLS) at the highest level in America over the past eight years has, without question, 

been a huge accomplishment of mine. Little did I know growing up that, one day, I would be living my dream as a professional soccer player! While it would be easy for me to list all of my soccer achievements, (like playing on one of the premier college soccer teams in America, Wake Forest University, from 2003-2006; being drafted 5th overall in the entire 2007 MLS Superdraft; scoring the winning goal to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2007; becoming Superliga Champions in 2008; and winning an MLS Cup Championship in 2010) these accomplishments aren’t what defines me. Others will be drafted higher than I, trophies will fade, records will be broken, and our championship teams will long be forgotten. These achievements have taught me invaluable lessons that have and will continue to shape my life in the years to come, but they are temporary and fleeting. Come to think of it, I have no idea where that gaudy MLS Cup Championship ring is anyway.

We are what we do, right? Wrong! Really, we are who God says we are, children of the One true God. But we get this thing called identity mixed up and confused all too often. Howdy! My name is Wells Thompson! Most folks know me as a professional soccer player. That’s great and all, but soccer is what I do, not who I am. God has used soccer to bless my life in countless ways and given me this platform to use as a vessel to make His name famous. It has been an amazing journey. Soccer is my job, my profession, and how I provide for my family; but it is not my identity. It is not what defines me. What defines me is that I am a follower of Jesus. But it took me a long time to realize this. You see, God has had to break me of my identity as a soccer player over and over again. And just when I think I have finally surrendered to Him and placed my identity in Christ Jesus, I find myself falling back into the trap that the world wants me to believe. This is a battle that I fight every day; one that we all fight.

I understand more and more that this life isn’t about me. As a professional athlete, people aspire to be like me simply because of what I do. But I always say kicking a ball around doesn't make me any more special than the guy next door. What does make me special is that I try to point people to Jesus. John 3:30 says “He must increase. I must decrease.” This is one of my “go-to” verses that helps me keep an eternal perspective.

Bottom line, Jesus changed my life, rocked my heart and world, and I am staking all that I am, my whole life, to follow Him! I was raised in a Christian home and spent my whole life in Church, but there is a huge difference between living out your parents beliefs versus discovering the indescribable joy, unending love, and unfathomable glory of Jesus Christ through a personal relationship with Him. When I was drafted to play professional soccer up in the Boston, New England area, I learned quickly that not everybody loves Jesus and some even hate Him. As a kid from the Bible belt who spent his whole life close to home, that was a huge shock. But it was exactly what I needed. God knew all along. It was the turning point in my life. It challenged me to make my faith my own. It was the motivation I needed to seek Christ and ultimately discover that He is who He says He is - the Messiah!

Charlotte Lady Eagles Celebrate 15th Season

This summer we celebrate 15 years of soccer and ministry with our MAI W-league team the Charlotte Lady Eagles. Join us in taking a look back at the journey.

The unique vision for women’s soccer ministry was born when Eagles GM Tom Engstrom learned the rights to a women’s team in Charlotte were available prior to the 2000 season.  The franchise rights were acquired and the inaugural season was a success on the field with a record of 8-3-1 and a playoff run to the championship game.  Head coach Lee Horton, GM Graham West and administrative assistant Kim Carter recruited and organized the team, establishing a firm foundation for the 15 year journey of the Lady Eagles. Among some of the first players were Tiffany Tisdale (Rice), and Becky Craig (Hylton) who have continued to be involved with the team as assistant coaches. 

Not only did the Lady Eagles start off on the right foot competitively, but the early years were pivotal to the development of the team's heartbeat as a Christian ministry.  “The vision behind starting the women’s team was to have a high level team that could be trained, grow in their faith and have an effective influence both locally and globally” says original General Manager Graham West. “Women’s soccer has been one of the fastest growing sports in the world and because the US has been so successful over the years, it has provided a platform to impact individuals at all ages and levels of play. In the beginning we recruited high level college players that wanted to pursue and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.”


Throughout the next few years the vision of Missionary Athletes International would begin to expand and gain traction, moving forward in soccer ministry.   As the years of experience accumulated, doors began to open wide for opportunities to take the structure and incredible foundation God had provided to another level.  

Since 2000, there have been 176 players who have come through Charlotte proudly representing the Lady Eagles while receiving training and discipleship and more importantly growing in their faith and influence on others.  The Lady Eagles hold an overall record of 135-46-18 entering the 2014 season.  They have won a W2 USL Championship in 2001, made the Final Four on three occasions and have made playoffs 12 times over the years.  The Lady Eagles have been recognized by the United Soccer Leagues numerous times over the years and Coach Lee Horton was inducted into the Hall of Fame.  

The Lady Eagles have been able to use the platform of competitive soccer to be ambassadors for Christ and the United States all over the world.  The Lady Eagles’ team has traveled to Ethiopia, Laos, Singapore and Thailand where they played the national teams of those countries, as well as outreach trips to Australia, Brazil, Chile and Germany.  Former Lady Eagles players have played professionally in Australia and Europe, and are coaching teams at major universities including Baylor and UCLA.

Head coach Lee Horton offers this perspective -  "It has been amazing for me to watch God's hand on this team from the beginning. Every year He has brought an amazing group of young women here and impacted and empowered their lives. The success of the team for me is not measured by our record, although anyone would be proud of that, but by the impact that these women make for Jesus after they leave” says Horton.  “Many of our players have gone on to influence their college teams, teams they coach, families, friends, spouses, children, co-workers, and all who they come in contact with.  Nothing warms my heart more than seeing the Christ-centered women that they become."

In more recent years the Lady Eagles staff has enjoyed an increased overlap with MAI’s Chicago Eagles Women's Summer Academy program. The Lady Eagles’ open tryout this past December brought five academy veterans to Charlotte for an incredible day of encouragement, refreshment and high level soccer. In recruiting it is unique to be able to offer opportunities for women sports ministers coming from all playing levels, backgrounds and ages. 

Chicago Academy veteran (07-08) and Lady Eagle (09-11) Hannah Swift (Turner) became the first female to join full-time staff to specifically work with the women’s ministry in 2011 in order to help further develop and accomplish the team strategy. "It was remarkable to feel God’s pull on my heart towards joining staff and how this paralleled the great potential and continued vision of the women's team ministry. It's an absolute honor and blessing to serve this team and our staff through planning and organization, building relationships, prayer, and a passion and knowledge of the game.” Swift continues to say, “God has used soccer powerfully to change my life and show me His heart...this is what drives us forward each day seeing God continue to use the environment on this team to have radical impact on the lives of young women."  

The Charlotte Lady Eagles team is a testament of God’s faithfulness as each year brings a new group of players with unique backgrounds, gifts and passions to spend a season together experiencing transformation and heart change. 

Thank you to all who have supported the Lady Eagles through prayer, hosting, providing meals, coming to games and much more.  These fifteen years and countless lives impacted would not have been possible without you!

W-League Championship Participants Set
Our Charlotte Lady Eagles, LA, Ottawa, Washington to fight for title.  Lady Eagles fans are encouraged to come to the games or watch on TV.

TAMPA, Fla. – The participants for the 2014 W-League Championship presented by Nike have been determined, with our Charlotte Lady Eagles, LA Blues, Ottawa Fury FC and Washington Spirit Reserves set for Friday’s semifinals at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The semifinal winners will advance to the 2014 W-League Championship final at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday. In their 15-year history (further detailed here), our Charlotte Eagles have been to the W-League Championship four times, last appearing in 2006 and last winning the W-League Championship in 2001.

Both of Friday’s semifinal matchups and Sunday’s championship and consolation match will be available live on the W-League YouTube

CALLING ALL LADY EAGLES FANS:   JUMP ON THE BUS. TAKE A CAR. GRAB A PLANE!  But let’s not let our modern broadcasting conveniences prevent any and all Charlotte Lady Eagles fans from jumping on our team bus (leaving this Thursday morning, (July 24) at 7:00 a.m. and returning Sunday afternoon).  Even if there’s no room left on the Lady Eagles Bus, why don’t you drive down to the championship for what will be a most memorable family road-trip!  Anyone interested in jumping on the Lady Eagles Bus, please contact the Lady Eagles General Manager Jeremy Auyer (315.935.9256, by no later than this Wednesday (July 23) at 2 pm.  Anyone interested in helping our Lady Eagles defray the more than $7500.00 in additional unbudgeted expenses it is costing its ownership, Missionary Athletes International (MAI), to pay for this championship run, please contact MAI’s Stewardship Director Sam Casey (703.624.4092; or you can give on-line  to our Charlotte General Fund by clicking here. Downs Gulf Coast in PKs

Lady Eagles claim Southeastern Conference title

Charlotte, NC. - The Charlotte Lady Eagles claimed the 2014 W-League Southeastern Conference Championship Saturday night, needing spot kicks to overcome the Gulf Coast Texans after a 2-2 draw through regulation and overtime. Charlotte outlasted Gulf Coast 4-3 in the PKs and will travel to the 2014 W-League Championship next weekend at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

The game started off with the Texans dominating possession in the first 30 minutes of play, giving the Lady Eagles very few opportunities for shots on goal. Charlotte looked as if it was going to open up scoring in the 12th minute when Jade Montgomery took a shot that was tipped out by Texans goalkeeper Sarah Story. Montgomery got the rebound and sent another shot toward goal, but it went just over the crossbar.

The Texans opened up the scoring in the 17th minute when they received a free kick just outside the box. Nicole Waters took a pass just to the right of the wall and shot, slipping it past Charlotte goalkeeper Robyn Jones.

Jones made a number of big saves after the Texans goal to keep the score at 1-0, and the Lady Eagles were able to capitalize on an opportunity in the 41st minute when they received a penalty kick. Leah Fortune took the PK and tripped up, Story sliding the ball into the left side to tie the game 1-1.

The game was set to head into halftime tied when Macky Wing was able to slip past a Texans defender, getting the ball to Fortune who took a shot that was punched away by Story. Summer Lanter was able to get the rebound and Story wasn't able to recover in time to stop Lanter's shot. The Lady Eagles headed into halftime leading the Texans 2-1 despite being outshot 11-4.

Coming back from the half the Texans continued to outshoot the Lady Eagles and evened the score in the 69th minute when Maria Jose-Rojas got the ball and dribbled past Jones to make it 2-2. The remainder of the second half was scoreless, forcing two 15-minute overtimes.

The second half of overtime ended in a scramble when the Lady Eagles had a good chance off a free kick with 30 seconds remaining. Charlotte was almost able to sneak a shot into the bottom corner, but Story was able to smother the shot and force the game to a shootout which Charlotte won.

2014 W-League Championships presented by Nike

July 25-27 at State of the Art, IMG Academy Stadium, Bradenton, Fla.

Now it’s on the Final Four in Florida where our Lady Eagles will first face the No.1 ranked W-League team in the nation, the LA Blues.

The LA Blues (12-0-0) are the top seed after earning their fifth trip to the final four in their seven-year history thanks to a 2-1 victory against the Colorado Pride in Saturday’s Western Conference Championship. Goals from Sasha Andrews and Elizabeth Eddy helped LA overcome an early deficit and earn a shot to defend their 2013 title. They will face the Charlotte Lady Eagles (5-1-4), who took the Southeastern Conference title by defeating the top-seeded Gulf Coast Texans in penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw. Central Conference Champion Ottawa Fury (11-0-1) enter the championship weekend as the No. 2 seed and will face the No. 3-seed Washington Spirit Reserves (10-0-2), who earned their trip to the W-League Championship by defeating the Braddock Road Stars Elite in Friday’s Northeastern Conference Championship. Ottawa, the 2012 W-League champions, captured the Central Conference crown Saturday by knocking off K-W United FC 4-0.






2014 W-League Championship presented by Nike
At IMG Academy
Bradenton, Florida


Friday, July 25
No. 3 Washington Spirit Reserves vs. No. 2 Ottawa Fury FC, 5 p.m. ET, IMG Academy Stadium
No. 4 Charlotte Lady Eagles vs. No. 1 LA Blues, 7:30 p.m. ET, IMG Academy Stadium

Sunday, July 27, 12 p.m. ET, IMG Academy Stadium