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Zuhosky’s Take #21: TST Start of Awesome Summer Soccer Tradition

117 days ago


With the Premier League and other European-based soccer organizations either wrapping up or scheduled to wrap up, the summer is always an interesting time for the sport. This year is no exception.

Think about it: In any given summer, the offseason (or “silly season”, as some footy pundits refer to it,) could often be more entertaining than the action on the pitch over the previous nine months. You usually have transfers galore, European sides coming over to the United States to play in international friendliesand cup competitions pitting national teams against one another for continental supremacy.

There will be plenty of time to discuss those aspects of the summer of soccer as the weeks progress. While those traditions are tried and true to help fans of The Beautiful Game navigate the offseason of their favorite European leagues, there’s a new tradition about to kick off right here in America.

Huge Soccer Weekend Coming Up in the Carolinas

If TST: The Soccer Tournament were to have been held over the Memorial Day weekend as opposed to the first four days in June, fans attending the event would have been miserable. North Carolina experienced frequent rain this past weekend, resulting in NASCAR adjusting its races over the holiday period.

Both the XFINITY Series race and the Coca-Cola 600, originally scheduled to have been run on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, were instead contested on Monday afternoon and evening. In the case of the former competition, a second rain delay on its rescheduled date forced its completion to go late into the night.

This weekend, however, the forecasts are much more favorable for an outdoor event. Fair weather and minimal chances of rain are expected throughout the four days of futbol in Cary, NC.

The Soccer Tournament Based on Roundball Counterpart

Fans of basketball are captivated every July by TBT: The Basketball Tournament, an annual competition aired and streamed on ESPN’s properties. That event pits 64 teams in a single-elimination tournament, with a $1 million (USD) cash prize split among the event’s champions.

The number of entrants in TBT has fluctuated over the years, with the field being as high as 97 teams in its second staging in 2015, to as low as 24 in a scaled-back field in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on sports. Additionally, the 2020 tournament was held exclusively in Columbus, OH to minimize any outbreaks of the virus.

TST Comes Alive From Conversations in 2020

It was also in 2020 that the seeds were planted to eventually bring The Soccer Tournament to life. As per the official TST Website:

“In 2020, TBT fans and soccer players Mike Volk and Henry Tembon reached out to TBT Founder Jon Mugar and suggested applying TBT’s high-stakes, open-to-all model to soccer. Together with Alecko Eskandarian and TBT co-founder Dan Friel, they agreed that a 7v7 world championship would be unparalleled in its intensity, competitiveness and skill level. And The Soccer Tournament (TST) was born.”

The Soccer Tournament Specifics

TST will be comprised of a 32-team field, and in totality, 63 matches will be played between the morning of June 1 and the afternoon of June 4 in the Cary, NC area. Group play will begin on Thursday morning and continue through the daytime session on Friday.

Upon narrowing the initial field to 16 teams, the knockout round will be played during the evening session on Friday, with the tournament down to its last eight sides by the close of action on day two.

Saturday brings with it the quarterfinals and semifinals. Tournament action concludes Sunday afternoon with the final.

The championship team splits $1 million, while the runners-up secure no prize money. To the victor go (all) the spoils.

Shorter Matches and Shorter Pitches in TST

Fans of pro soccer are long accustomed to seeing matches played out over the course of two 45-minute halves (plus stoppage time) to see which club gets the three points by the time the final whistle blows. This won’t be the case in TST.

Matches throughout the tournament will instead be contested over two 20-minute periods. To keep the action moving forward, halftime in each game will be just two minutes.

Unlike traditional soccer, where the pitch is around 100 yards in length, the playing surface is shorter here. TST pitches will only be 65 yards long.

In addition, dead ball periods are defined by any stoppage in play by the referee due to a timeout or if a player must be substituted off of the pitch because of an injury.

The Elam Ending: Soccer-Style

The Basketball Tournament is noteworthy for how the winner in each ballgame is determined. Ahead of the 2017 version of TBT, The Elam Ending was first developed by Dr. Nick Elam of Ball State University in Muncie, IN as an alternative to late-game fouling inside a game’s final minutes.

Under Elam Ending rules, at the first stoppage inside four minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the game clock no longer exists. At that point, a target score is set based on the leading team’s total plus eight points, with the first team to reach or eclipse that score advancing to the next round.

This method of determining the winner has since been utilized in the NBA All-Star Game for the last four years.

The Soccer Tournament’s got its own version of The Elam Ending, Target Score Time. After the second half is played, a target score is established by using the number of goals  by the leading side plus one.

However, if the target score isn’t achieved  during the first 10 minutes of extra time, one player from each team has to leave the match. Subsequently, if no scoring occurs in five-minute intervals beyond the initial 10, an additional player from each side exits the game, extending to a maximum of one hour if needed.

Noteworthy Players Competing This Weekend

The Soccer Tournament wouldn’t be anything without marquee players getting out to the pitch and getting some minutes this week. What’s perhaps the biggest story in the sport this year, Wrexham AFC, the subject of a popular reality series on FX, were promoted to EFL League Two at the end of the season.

They’re bringing along forward Lewis Lloyd and goalkeeper Mark Howard, both of whom were instrumental in the former National League club’s promotion effort. In the past, Howard has suited up for Arsenal and Cardiff City.

The United States Women’s National Team has also entered into TST this year. Captained by general manager Heather O’Reilly, they’ll have forward Stephanie McCaffrey, midfielder Lori Lindsey, and defender Lori Lawson in the fold. All of them have been on World Cup-winning teams.

The Soccer Tournament Set Up For Success

One would have to think that, at least on paper, TST will have a wonderful maiden voyage coming up later on in the week. Why wouldn’t it?

They’ll get fair weather in the forecast all weekend long, notable legends of footy will be involved in various capacities, including a team coached by Clint Dempseyand what’s perhaps the most important bullet point of all, the organizers have fostered a fan-friendly atmosphere. Other sports organizations try to produce a fan-friendly product but often come up short for any number of reasons, prohibitive ticket costs chiefly among them.

In this case, TST gets it right. They’ve got something brewing here in only year one.

Final Thoughts

As somebody who only started watching soccer roughly a decade ago, having something like The Soccer Tournament is quite welcome. You’re so used to seeing some of these players in traditional 11-on-11 matches and then you get to watch them play in a 7-on-7 affair.

With it being the first year of the event, there’s no clear-cut winner heading into the weekend. If the organizers play their cards right, this could be the first staging of an annual tradition.

If you’ve got spare time on your hands later on this week, go to your mobile device and access the Peacock app (and/or YouTube) and watch a match. This is going to be a great weekend.

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