LAND O'LAKES — Developing youth soccer players is impossible without having big-stage competitions. Pasco County played co-host to one of the nation's largest high-level youth tournaments over the past week with United Soccer League's Super Y-League finals coming to the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex.
The Y-League is made up of teams from around the country and Canada that play in regional qualifiers for the chance to make the late November trip to Florida to play in one final tournament.
After watching an entire season and making a 20-hour drive from Chicago for the tournament, Doug Olsen watched as his son's U16 Chicago Fire team managed a 3-3 draw with the New York Magic to start its tournament. The result brought satisfaction though, as Olsen knows how good some of the teams in the Y-League are.
"This is a fun trip to make because the competition is great and the organization of the tournament is good," Olsen said. "Looking at some of the teams in the tournament, I feel like we have a lot of younger kids. I thought we might come all the way down here and get hammered in every match so today was not a bad day."
One issue that surrounds youth soccer is the relationship between high schools and clubs. The high school season often interferes with a club's aspirations, and in the case of some of the Super Y teams, finding adequate time to prepare for the tournament was difficult.
"High school season just finished two weeks ago, and that was our first chance to get in a full formal training session," New York Magic coach Shawn Hart said. "Two of our guys are the best players from their high schools where they usually carry the team, but here they have to play as part of the team as well. They're playing with and against other good players and teams so we have to try to jell as a unit in a very short period of time. That's not easy."
The limited preparation affects team chemistry but not the quality of the players. The Super Y-League still offers some of the best opposing talent that teams like the Magic can find.
"This experience is good for the boys because the level of competition is so good," Hart said. "This is our first year making it to the finals, so we're figuring out how to be successful. We want to do well because it's more exposure for the kids.
"We went online and there is a list of college scouts that are attending these games," Hart said, "so it's something we have to figure out because we don't want to be going home early."
Local teams have the advantage of not having to travel, but that doesn't necessarily give them any homefield advantage once the tournament starts. The Hillsborough County United found that out the hard way after blowing a 2-0 lead in it group stage opening match against Vancouver's unbeaten Coastal FC.
"The level of play in this tournament is far superior to anything else we play in," HC United midfielder Justin Lyles said. "Other tournaments are usually just local competition that we've seen before but this is just a bunch of great teams from all over the place. When you're playing against teams like this, there is no such thing as homefield advantage."