Saturday, September 5, 2009

Youth: Labor Day tournaments make for big start to season

TAMPA - While the new youth soccer season is barely a month old, with most teams having begun league competition in the past three weeks, in many eyes the Labor Day weekend marks the true kickoff of the club season.

That’s thanks to the number of tournaments that are held over the three-day weekend, with teams from the bay area travelling around the state, and even out-of-state.

It can be a pivotal weekend for some teams, most notably those that will compete at the Disney Soccer Showcase Qualifier at the Wide World of Sports complex. For under-15 to under-18 teams, the full Showcase tournaments held in late December and early January offer great opportunities to be seen by college coaches and scouts.

“These tournaments, particularly for the 15s and up are a showcase environment,” RSL Florida Girls Director of Coaching Jim Cote said. “You’re playing to get a shot in the actual showcase in December, and there’s big stakes ahead here. You want to be at that tournament, if you want to be recruited by the best teams in the country, you’ve pretty much guaranteed that by being at this tournament.”

RSL Florida is sending six teams to Disney, with other local clubs such as Hillsborough County United, the Brandon Flames, Fusion Futbol Club, Strictly Soccer and the Clearwater Chargers also represented. Cote adds that the squads that earn a berth in their division final, and as a result a berth in the full tournament, can also expect other doors to open.

“If you do well this weekend, you probably set yourself up for getting your teams into Raleigh, which becomes the next showcase,” Cote said. “It’s really a two or three tournament effect on this one tournament, this one weekend. You hate to say it like that, but that’s the reality of it.”

While that may be the case at Disney, other tournaments offer different levels of competition, and a chance for teams to build chemistry and understanding. Two tournaments are held locally, one by Fusion FC in the Tampa area and the other by the Clearwater Chargers at the Sarasota Polo Grounds. Brandon Flames Director of Coaching Steve Peet estimates that his club has 35 teams travelling to different tournaments around the state, and even some travelling to the Atlanta Cup in Georgia.

With almost every player in action, that leads to a growing sense of expectation as the week goes on within each club.

“There’s a buzz around the place that’s palpable,” Hillsborough County United Boys Director of Coaching Kelvin Jones said in the build-up to this weekend. “You can feel it. All the teams, we did a good job of getting them rest this summer, we almost mandated that a lot of them take time off, so this is the big kickoff for a lot of the teams.

“Whether it’s Disney, or the (Fusion) tournament, or any Labor Day tournament that you’re going to, this can set the tone for the rest of your year.”

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