For the past week, Chicago has been peppered with pint-sized footballers from around the globe here to compete in the World Sport Chicago International Cup tournament from July 24-27.
The under-15 club teams include Germany’s Hamburg SV, Sockers FC, Mexico’s Centro de Formacion Cuauhtémoc Blanco, 36 Lion from Nigeria, the Chicago Fire Academy squad, and the under-15 U.S. National team.
Hamburg SV has won this tournament three times before (2004, 2006, 2007), but they don’t think that a fourth victory is in their hands just yet. “The tournament has grown and grown, and the competition gets better each year,” said Markus Hirte, the youth academy director for Hamburg SV. Hamburg may have an edge, as they have experienced tough competition in Europe already. “The competition here is different. In the tournament here, there are always one or two good matches with good teams, but in Europe its every match.”
Hirte is, however, looking forward to seeing the Mexican and African teams compete, acknowledging that those teams are typically “very good technically, very skillful, and very fast,” but maintains that his team tends to be a bit “more powerful, a little bit more smooth and coordinated” than the other teams competing. “In Germany, the teams have a lot of discipline and technique and power,” said Hirte. Despite his comments, Hirte isn’t prepared to make a prediction on how Hamburg will fare in the tournament this year. “We have played no matches yet, so I can’t speak to anything about the other teams.”
Chicago Fire’s Cuauhtémoc Blanco is also bringing a team plucked from his academy in Mexico. This tournament will be Centro de Formacion Cuauhtémoc Blanco’s inaugural U.S. competition. Blanco brought the best team available, chosen from a pool of player tryouts in Mexico City. “The kids work really hard. I want them to have a good time in Chicago and have a good game. They will work hard to represent Mexican soccer well,” said Blanco.
Blanco founded his academy a year and a half ago, and when he has time away from the Fire, he goes back to Mexico to train with the team and get acquainted with the players. “I wanted to start an academy so the players can be learning to become professionals,” he said. Though Blanco hopes that his team wins the tournament, it is not his primary goal. “The most important part is that they’re working hard, and they’re learning the game.”
Co-hosted by Illinois Youth Soccer (the official representative of both U.S. Youth Soccer and the United States Soccer Federation in Illinois) and World Sport Chicago (WSC), an Illinois not-for-profit that works to enhance the image and participation of Olympic sports across the Chicago community, the tournament will bring a total of eight teams to the Chicagoland area to compete. While this is WSC’s first time co-hosting, the organization is already looking ahead, hoping to bring in more elite youth teams to compete in future tournaments.
Founded in early 2007, originally to bolster Chicago in the domestic phase of the Olympic bid process, WSC has been working to spread the popularity of Olympic sports for the past 18 months. Though Chicago is now one of the four finalists to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, whether or not Chicago is awarded the bid is of no consequence to WSC’s mission. “We’re committed to promoting the Olympic spirit. In my mind, it’s a commitment to sport as an integral part of developing the total person: fair play, pushing the limits, striving to be better. Not being best, but being the best you can be,” said WSC’s executive director Scott Myers. “Regardless of whether Chicago wins the Olympic bid, the organization will continue after the Olympic games.”
Myers acknowledges that it isn’t just this tournament, or any one event, that WSC believes will extend a lasting international influence on Chicago’s youth. “We want to get kids involved with loving sports, to get them involved for their lifetime,” said Myers. “We’d like to create youth exchange programs.”
The tournament will be a lively showcase of the future of global soccer, and readers in the Chicago area should make an effort to come out in support. With plenty of U.S. youth playing against formidable competition from Germany, Mexico, and Africa, the tournament will provide a prime opportunity to see firsthand how the U.S.’s youth development programs stack up.
2008 World Sport Chicago International Cup Competition
U.S. National Team #1
Olympic Development Program Select Team (Region 2)
U.S. National Team #2
Centro de Formación Cuauhtémoc Blanco
36 Lion (Nigeria)
@Univeristy of Illinois at Chicago (UIC):
4 p.m.: U.S. National Team #1 vs. Hamburg SV
6 p.m.: U.S. National Team #2 vs. Centro de Formación Cuauhtémoc Blanco
4 p.m.: Sockers FC vs. ODP
6 p.m.: 36 Lion vs. Chicago Fire
4 p.m.: U.S. National Team #1 vs. ODP
6 p.m.: U.S. National Team #2 vs. Chicago Fire
4 p.m.: Centro de Formación Cuauhtémoc Blanco vs. 36 Lion
6 p.m.: Sockers FC vs Hamburg SV
8 a.m.: U.S. National Team #1 vs. Sockers FC
10 a.m.: U.S. National Team #2 vs. 36 Lions
10 a.m.: Centro de Formación Cuauhtémoc Blanco vs. Chicago Fire
12 p.m.: ODP vs. Hamburg SV
For further details about the event, please visit www.illinoisyouthsoccer.org/InternationalCup.html