The 28th Surf Cup dominated the San Diego Polo Fields for the weekend, with soccer action stretching impressively across the spread of soft grass, a total of 20 soccer pitches fitting comfortably onto the fields. The furthest out fields were lined up right next door to some polo ponies chilling out in their stables.
Surf Cup President Mike Connerly said that nationwide the poor economy is causing soccer tournaments to struggle with low attendance. The top-notch Surf Cup, however, did not have that problem.
"We were very fortunate," Connerly said, noting that while the number of applicants to the tournament was down a little, they didn't suffer at all in the quality of teams.
Every year a total of 338 boys and girls teams are accepted and on average 300 to 350 teams are turned away. This year, due to a lower number of applicants, they only had to cut around 200.
Like every year, teams came in from all over the United States. There were teams competing from Texas, Illinois, Washington, Georgia and several teams from Hawaii. They even had two international teams, one from Vancouver, Canada along with a girls team from Tokyo, Japan.
The Surf Cup is definitely an event. Players walk onto the field under a banner that reads "The best of the best." Under a large tent, music pumps in a makeshift soccer warehouse coated with pictures of United States soccer stars like women's national team goalkeeper Hope Solo. All along the fields, vendors are set up offering barbecue, funnel cakes, smoothies and items like "cleat skins," a nifty, colorful devise that can be slipped onto the bottom of soccer cleats to smooth out the spikes and make the shoes wearable on the street.
More than just a soccer tournament, Surf Cup also flexes its philanthropic muscles, pledging $150,000 toward charities like Kicks for Breast Cancer and Sport Support, a group that collects equipment to pass on to an orphanage in Guatemala. A donation box was set up right by the tournament entrance.
Eight local teams played in last weekend's action, which featured teams at the under-10 level through under-15. The Del Mar/Carmel Valley Sharks were represented by the boys under-10 white team and the boys under-14 squad. There were five Carmel Valley Manchester Soccer teams playing: The boys under-10 red, under-11, under-12 and the girls under-10 and under-12.
While none of the teams reached Monday's semifinal and championship round, the Manchester boys under-12 team came the closest. The boys went 3-0, scoring nine goals and allowing only one scored against them. Their quarterfinal match ended in a 0-0 tie forcing penalty kicks and they lost 5-4.
Manchester's under-10 girls were playing in their first ever Surf Cup. While it was their first Surf Cup, they are no strangers to tournament play or to each other. They have playing as a team together for three years, since most of them were 7 years old. Two weeks ago won the Wolf Pack Tournament in Los Angeles.
"They are fabulous girls," said Coach Jeff Illingworth, who also serves as the director of coaching for the league.
In the Surf Cup, the girls had a very respectable record of 1-1-1, their one win coming over the HSC Bulls 99 team from Honolulu. While the Hawaiian goalkeeper stopped many close shots on goal, Manchester was able to put in three to win the game. Bridget Sway scored twice and Hallie "Berry" Berman found the net once to bring the final score to 3-0.
"I was very pleased," said Illingsworth. "I honestly think that we were the better team in every game we played. Of course I'm disappointed not to advance but their attitudes are great and they played so hard, overall I'm very happy."
The girls ended the game with a great show of sportsmanship, handing out Manchester key chains to the Hawaiian team. They then t ran down a line of their parents and fans to slap everybody's hand and get a post-game treat.
The team will play one more tournament at the end of summer before starting San Diego league play in September. The girls are also hoping to take a trip to England next year to see where their namesake Manchester United plays and possibly meet some of the players. The trip is a Carmel Valley Manchester Soccer highlight every year.
The second Surf Cup weekend begins this Saturday with under-16 through under-19 teams competing. Only one Carmel Valley team will be represented, the boys under-19 Del Mar/Carmel Valley Sharks White. This a group of soccer studs who are expected to play well - they won the Surf Cup in 2006 and were the 2007 Surf College Cup champions in November.
This year's Surf Cup was the first without one of its big time supporters, Mick Dawson.
Dawson died unexpectedly last August at the age of 57, after working with Surf Cup since 1994. Since 2001 he had served as the administrative director of Surf Soccer Club.
"I've missed him deeply," said Connerly of his co-worker and friend. " I can get a person to do some of what he did but I can't get anybody to do all the jobs he did. And nobody has his soccer knowledge."
A huge sign at the tournament entrance paid a memorial tribute to Surf Cup's dearest friend.