Thousands of young athletes from around the world gathered at the National Sport Center this week to compete in the USA Cup soccer tournament – the largest youth soccer tournament in the Western Hemisphere.
The girls and boys – members of 958 teams representing 16 countries and 22 states – came to challenge themselves, to better their game, to win bragging rights.
As some 21,000 young athletes took the world’s stage to play the world’s most beautiful game this week, more than 400 world-class referees from 22 countries and 25 states regulated play and enforced the rules.
Referees are the lifeblood of any tournament and as they officiate the thousands of games that take place during the USA Cup, they help to preserve the game’s beauty.
One of the many international referees working the 28th annual USA Cup described what inspired him to want to be part of America’s greatest international youth soccer tournament.
“I heard of the great atmosphere here, the camaraderie, the game, the players, the family of soccer here (at the USA Cup) and I wanted to come and see for myself,” said Wilson deCosta, an international referee working his first USA Cup.
Born in Angola, the 32-year old FIFA-certified referee currently makes his home in the Bahamas and has also lived in Guyana.
A referee and a soccer player for nearly half his lifetime, deCosta knows the game on many levels.
“The skill level here (at the USA Cup) is amazing… I can’t see the U.S. not being a soccer country. These athletes are amazing – and you can see their excitement. You can see they are so excited to be playing in the cup,” deCosta said.
Staying in an NSC dorm room with two Brazilian referees and one from Chicago, Ill., deCosta called his days here a real learning experience.
“You get to learn not just about yourself but about other parts of the world,” deCosta said.
And that’s true on the soccer field, too, he said.
“It’s a matter of wanting to improve my skills and share my skills with someone else. It’s more of giving back to what the game has given to me,” said deCosta.
Although they may speak different languages, international referees working USA Cup games together use a universal language.
“If you can referee soccer, you can referee anywhere,” he said. “The calls are the same, the game’s the same. It’s all one language and we all speak the same language,” deCosta said.
Schwan’s USA Cup tournament is unique as it is the only tournament of its size in the world that stages all its games on a single contiguous campus.
It’s also known for its ambitious program of off-the-field activities that include an Olympic-style opening ceremony, a daily video show, live webcasting of selected games, Minnesota Stars FC professional soccer games in the evening, social and educational activities for the players and their families and tours to major Twin Cities tourist destinations, including Valleyfair, the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Mall of America and Bunker Beach Water Park.
“This is a beautiful experience,” deCosta said. “The atmosphere, the players, the coaches, the spectators – it’s all just so beautiful. I’m so happy to be here.”
For more information about Schwan’s USA Cup, visit www.usacup.org.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]