Volume 75, Number 45 | March 29 -April 04 2006

Tournaments kick up soccer costs several notches

By Judith Stiles

Andres Fernandez at a pregame strategy talk at the Jefferson Cup tournament in Virginia.
Why on earth would a 13-year-old boy get in a car and drive with his dad more than 500 miles to play three 70-minute games of competitive soccer on a weekend, only to meet several of his New York City buddies on the sidelines of their own games at the same tournament in Virginia? It did occur to Andres Fernandez and his dad, Jim, that the world of youth soccer has gotten very complicated and expensive, and they might have fared just as well to organize a few matches at Pier 40 for some good competitive fun.

However, young Fernandez saw it differently and would not have missed the prestigious 26th Annual Jefferson Cup for anything, including the fever and flu, from which he had barely recovered. With a bit of gravel in his voice brought on from a persistent cough, Fernandez excitedly described the various nationally ranked teams in attendance, such as the Potomac Fusion, who were number one in the country last year. For Fernandez this was a chance to test his mettle along with his team from the BW Gottschee Club in Queens.

Two of his Greenwich Village teammates did not attend, Nathan Miller, due to that pesky flu, as well as Travis Wantchekon, who was on crutches with a foot injury. Corey Schramm and Sean Orellana, also of Greenwich Village, made the long trip with their team from the Manhattan Kickers Club, and Matthew Cooke and his dad, Steve, drove from Jane St. to Mechanicsville, Va., to play with the Brooklyn Italians, who were also honored by being accepted to play in the Jefferson Cup.

Gone are the days of 13-year-old boys kicking a soccer ball around between two backpacks placed on a field as makeshift goals. To play soccer today requires proper insurance, permits, league registration and, you guessed it, some money in order to practically step on a field in New York City.

“Shirts and skins” have been replaced with expensive uniforms to designate teams, and some soccer clubs require as many as three sets of uniforms a year. Do the math and you will find that for one child and parent to drive their own car to Virginia and back, including gas and tolls, could easily creep up to $200.

Two nights in a hotel cost $250, and one player’s share of coaching and entry fees cost $60. Don’t forget food for two, at about $200 for the weekend, which made the grand total $710. This took a bite out of the Fernandez family budget. But, get ready, because if Fernandez continues to be a “serious” soccer player, by age 16, he will be attending about four of these national tournaments per year when they morph into college-recruiting showcases. This is what a gouge in the family budget can look like at age 16:

Four college showcases: $2,840

Annual Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association club fees: $800

Super-Y League fee (average): $900

Highlight tape for college coaches: $550

This puts playing soccer as a teenage boy north of $5,000 per year and this does not include gas and tolls to weekly games or any training camps. Oh, what have wide-eyed Village parents gotten themselves into? “Serious” youth soccer in the U.S.A. is fast becoming a sport for the rich.

Fortunately, at the Downtown United Soccer Club, money is never an obstacle for a kid who wants to play soccer, as DUSC provides an extensive scholarship program for families in need. This helps with the club fees but teams still have to rely on outside sponsors to help college-bound players get to these tournaments.
While the Jefferson Cup only accepts 550 of the top teams nationwide — out of triple that amount that apply — the tournament’s gross revenue in entry fees is about $385,000, and the tournament boasts in its literature that it generates about $5 million in business related to the event.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty of actually playing games at the Jefferson Cup, Andres Fernandez and his buddies from Greenwich Village thoroughly enjoyed the event, and the chance to meet other soccer nuts from California to Maine and even Mexico City. In his first game, Fernandez’s BW Gottschee team beat a team from Florida called Strictly Soccer Select, 4-0. Fernandez played sweeper — the last defender before the goalie — making sure no balls got past him. Only a very few did.

“It is a little hard being the last man because you can’t make any mistakes,” said Fernandez, thoughtfully, on his position’s importance. Fernandez did a stellar job at sweeper, and throughout the tournament was a level-headed and smart defender, albeit with a hacking cough.

In the second game the city boys beat the WYMCA Blizzard from Delaware, 2-0. But in the semifinals they lost, 1-0, in overtime to a team from the South Charlotte Soccer Association, from North Carolina. After the game, players and parents alike were scratching their heads at the peculiar tournament rule that overtime had to be played with only seven men on a side, rather than the traditional 11 they had been playing with all weekend.
In spite of the odd rules, the tournament was well run and the New York City boys would go back again in a heartbeat. But who knows? After Downtown United recently held its first annual outdoor tournament at Pier 40, which was wildly successful, drawing a whopping 66 teams from the region, maybe the boys will opt to stay home next March and play soccer at a local tournament, replete with gourmet food, free street parking, World Cup-style pregame ceremonies, good competition — and, oh yes, at a fraction of the cost.

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