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Teams to dig deep at sand soccer tourney

(ran East, South editions)

A sports event considered "extreme" by many is happening in Tampa Bay next weekend. It's the fifth annual Sun, Surf and Sand Soccer Tournament, and one St. Petersburg team hopes to recapture the championship it won in 1994.

This isn't ordinary soccer. It's a soccer game played on the sandy beach behind the Adam's Mark Hotel on Clearwater Beach. For those involved, it's fun yet serious business and requires a $200-per-team entry fee. Organizer Peter Mellor is expecting to close registration with 120 teams.

The event, free to spectators, originated on Clearwater Beach five years ago. Mellor encourages spectators to bring lawn chairs, coolers and the kids. It runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Matt Mustoe from northeast St. Petersburg is captain of Team Bud Soccer Dogs. Players range in age from 20 to 45. Most have been training at North Shore Park and on St. Petersburg Beach for six weeks to prepare for the rigorous event. "It's a lot harder on you physically, wears you out quicker," Mustoe said. "There's a lot of play in the air, too; a lot of it's luck."

New team member Charlie McKenna is from Grand Forks, N.D. He and Mustoe were fraternity brothers this year at Florida State University.

There's not much soccer in his hometown of 45,000. He described it as "prairie farmland where temperatures range from 100 degrees below zero to 100 degrees above zero." Team members have told him sand soccer is really hot and it's hard to run in the sand. No shoes or taped feet are allowed.

Three of the past four years, the St. Petersburg team reached the semifinals or finals.

Bringing the sport to the United States was Mellor's idea. He's associated with Umbro, a sports clothing manufacturer. "Umbro had a sand soccer line of apparel doing well with sales," Mellor explained, "but didn't have the game to go with it." He convinced Umbro executives that amateur sand soccer in the States "will go big-time," he said.

He may be right. The Florida circuit now includes Clearwater, Fort Lauderdale, Cocoa Beach and Daytona. Cable television sports network ESPN recently showed a pro circuit game of beach soccer. "Next year we're looking to bring one of those pro games into the Clearwater event," Mellor said.

Mellor isn't short on credentials. He's goalkeeping coach for the Tampa Bay Mutiny. He also played professional soccer for 18 years in England and played with the Edmonton Drillers in the old North American Soccer League. During next weekend's tournament, seven games will be played at once on the 35- by 45-yard, roped-off sand fields. Each game has two 15-minute halves.

Each team is allowed five players _ four in the field and one goalie. There are three substitute players and two alternates. Other Team Bud Soccer Dogs from northeast and northwest St. Petersburg are Geoff Donahoe, Tyler Wesslund, Craig Glass, John Wiemerskirk, Derek Howard, Mike Clevenger and Greg Monico. Frank Valentin lives in Seminole.

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