KC Champions soccer tourney features regional soccer fun

MARCH 2015 – When the Kansas City Champions Cup tournament was conceived in 2007, it was intended to be a place for elite area teams to test their strength in the early spring.

It has grown to become the singular spring showcase for regional soccer talent of all stripes.

Hosted by the Heartland Soccer Association, the tournament is run as a joint venture between Heartland and GSI Sports. Past tournaments have primarily been held at the Overland Park Soccer Complex, the Polo Soccer Field and Heritage Soccer Park, but this year’s tournament, which runs April 10-12, will also include the new state-of-the-art Swope Soccer Village.

“The Champions Cup will be the first time the OPSC and Swope Village have come together for a large tournament,” said Heartland executive director Shane Hackett.  “That’s Missouri and Kansas working across state lines together.”

Considering the popularity and growth of the tournament, it requires the very best facilities from both states.

“It started off with GSI running it as an elite-level tournament,” said Heartland tournament director Dave Morrow.  “It didn’t really take off in that respect.  It became a good date in the middle of spring to attract a lot of teams. Each year there are a few more teams.”

The first tournament in 2008 (a spring snow forced cancellation of tournament in 2007) featured 75 teams in five girls and nine boys divisions.  By 2014, the tournament field swelled to 354 teams in 51 divisions (26 girls, 25 boys), with more than 5,000 participants. A similar turnout is expected this year. With two weeks left in the registration period, 271 teams had already registered.

“Just the sheer size of it makes it unique,” said GSI Manager Huw Savage.  “It’s probably the biggest tournament around.  I don’t think I’ve heard of anything else over 200 teams.  When you’re running a soccer tournament, you’re doing really well with a hundred teams.  We have over 600 teams apply for Champions.”

The tournament enormity creates logistical difficulties.

“We have to worry about whether we have enough hotel rooms and referees,” Savage said.  In addition to working with Heartland to coordinate the tournament, GSI helps arrange hotel rooms for travelling teams.  “We have to book over 2,000 hotel rooms.  The teams have shut down every facility.  We just don’t have enough room.  It’s crazy.”

Youth-soccerKC Champions Cup has become the go-to tournament for many regional soccer clubs.

“The facilities are so good,” Morrow said.  “That’s the number one reason we’ll be able to have such big numbers.  We really don’t have to do anything different with the way we advertise it.  We just put on the best event we can.  It sells itself now.  The only limitation has been the number of fields.”

“We’re lucky in KC that we’ve got such great facilities, and it’s a great place to visit,” Savage said.  “There are 40 or 50 teams from Minnesota, teams from Wisconsin, lots of northern teams are coming here.  People love to come here and the facilities are great.  The competition is fantastic.  The fields, the referees, everything is well run.  There are great hotels, great restaurants and the quality of the fields have made it a place that many of these teams want to come back.”

When planning their season schedules, many of the region’s top clubs make the Champions Cup tournament their first choice.

“The established teams come back,” Savage said.  “It’s on their calendar right away.  Most coaches plan six months ahead.  You can see in registration how they mark off that weekend.”

Said Chad Ogle, who coaches a Boys U14 team from Twin Stars Academy in Minneapolis, “Honestly, we go to Vegas, Arizona, Virginia, and as far as the officiating and the fields, it’s the best tournament. We stay at a hotel five minutes away and we can play soccer and go to the restaurants there.  The weather sometimes doesn’t cooperate but they do a good job of rescheduling.  We’ve been all over the country and this is the best.

“For most clubs in Minnesota, their season begins in May. This tournament is what everybody goes to as a tune up for the beginning of the season, so many of the teams from Minnesota go because of that.”

The timing of the tournament is also a key to its popularity.

“We get a lot of northern teams,” Savage explained.  “It’s still too cold for a lot of them in April, so they like to come to Kansas City.”

The tournament attracts its share of high quality teams.  Ogle’s Twin Stars Academy team won the top bracket as a U12 team two years ago, then again last year as a U13 team on its way to finishing the season as the number one team from Minnesota and a runner-up in the U.S. club national championship.

However, there are also levels of competition to match each team in the tournament.

“One of the attractions of Champions Cup is if you sign up you can have a division that’s appropriate to your ability,” Savage said.  “The top divisions might have some of the top premier teams around, but you’ll get to come and face teams that are at the same level as yours and it’s not only the top teams that play at world class facilities.  Teams from each level will get to play at OPSC and Swope.”

Teams are guaranteed at least three games, with the top teams in each division playing one additional game for the division championship.

Boys and Girls divisions are available for ages U8 to U19, with teams playing in 6v6, 8v8 or 11v11 format while competing in Premier, Championship, and Bronze divisions, based upon competitive level.  Ages U8 to U10 can play in 6v6 or 8v8 format, while U11 plays 8v8.  U12 can choose 8v8 or 11v11, while ages U13 and up play full-sided 11v11 games.

Girls teams tend to top out at the U14 level because many girls high school teams have already begun to practice or play.  The heaviest participation is in the U10 to U13 range; there were 36 U12 Girls teams last year and 38 U12 Boys squads.

The Heartland staff, led by Morrow, review the teams’ ability levels then place them into brackets with similar teams, ensuring competitive balance.

Savage invites youth soccer players and coaches to visit the GSI and Heartland websites for more information about the KC Champions Cup and other upcoming area tournaments:http://heartlandsoccer.net/kansas-city-champions-cup/  and http://www.gsisports.com/t-KcChampCup.asp.

Article by Marc Bowman

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