This year my son’s youth soccer team decided to participate in the USA Cup, held this week in Blaine, Minnesota just north of the great city of Minneapolis. The last few years he participated in league play through a team associated with MYSA, one of the youth soccer associations in the state of Minnesota. We don’t live in Minnesota, but that’s beside the point! Our area draws from both sides of the river!
This year, due to some players wanting college recruitment exposure, we switched to a tournament schedule. So, here we are at the USA Cup Tournament in Blaine, Minnesota. Our boys played their first game Tuesday morning, and then last night were the opening ceremonies. I have to be honest and say my son and I almost decided not to go to the opening ceremonies, but we did, and I am so glad we changed our minds.
But, earlier in the day our first game was held and we played a team from Sweden. As you might guess, these WERE 19-year-old boys-men, not U16 & U17 year-olds playing up. I’m not going get into all the logistics of soccer registration rules but just know that they have changed in the last few years. And, as I understand it, due to numbers at the beginning of yearly registration time, our boys are playing U19 teams. The Swedes were great! They were not only older and more filled out, but had been together for 9 months, playing and practicing as a unit all that time. It makes a difference! Three of their five goals were sent in from corner kicks that just arced perfectly into the back corner of our net. It was a loss for our team but it was obvious that they were the better team and our boys respected their skills. It was also a clean game without the rudeness that can so easily evolve on the part players, parents, and spectators.
The opening ceremonies were held last night to welcome over 15,000 youth soccer participants from 1,150 teams (stats from the public address system at the opening). The National Sports Center Stadium was filled with parents and families that had brought their youth to Minnesota for this tournament. When we arrived at the stadium, the field was empty before us, with the exception of country flags and metal fencing used to corral the athletes and guide their parade into the stadium.
After a few opening awards to the supporters of the tournament the parade of teams began! As you might guess from my earlier statements about playing a group from Sweden, the teams were from all over the world! In marched teams from Belgium, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Haiti, Jamaica, Japan, Norway, Iceland, Peru, Puerto Rico, and more. I thought I heard the announcer say there were representatives from 69 countries. Many of our U.S. states were represented by teams as well. We saw Hawaii, Utah, Alaska, New Jersey, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Wyoming walk in, among others. All were dressed in at least their uniform jersey’s, and many had on full uniforms. Some even decked out their uniforms with a traditional cultural touch from their home country like the Mexican teams wearing sombrero’s. Many countries had several teams, not just one. I think I heard them say that Brazil brought 25 teams. Canada, our neighbors to the North, had many as well.
Our club had boys teams playing the U19 age bracket and the U16 age bracket. They marched together for a wonderful show of blue and white. In absence of a team flag, the boys proudly carried the American Flag alongside their banner. When the National Anthem played our team as well as many others were staring up at our national symbol with pride. As far as we saw, we were the only team to carry a U.S. flag! It was a sight that brought tears to the eyes of many of our team parents, including my own.
Once the teams were all ensconced in the gated area on the field, a cauldron was lit, two sky divers dropped in to the track surrounding the field and fire works were set off. It was a sight! This all reminded me of attending the National History Day National Competition in Washington D.C, back in 2010 with my oldest son. There was a feel of camaraderie and global good will in the air.
For two people who did not want to attend these ceremonies, we are both glad we did! It was truly a once in a life time event. Have you ever attended an event like this? If so, what was it and where did it take place. Leave a message about it in the comments!