The hype is growing around The Soccer Tournament (TST) — brainchild of the folks behind the increasingly popular The Basketball Tournament (TBT) — but I don't think anyone's talking about it nearly enough.
On June 1, 32 teams will descend on WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC, for a four-day tournament with the winners taking home $1 million. It's certainly not your traditional soccer tournament with different rules, procedures and a collection of squads comprised of legends, professionals, up-and-coming talents, amateurs, viral street sensations and everyone in-between.
The interest in competing at the tournament has been overwhelming. Shortly after launching the event last October, TST received 275 applicants for its 32-team field. We now know the full field of competing clubs, including Borussia Dortmund, West Ham, Liga MX's Club Necaxa, promotion winners Wrexham AFC and a squad of USWNT legends, and their respective groups.
3 reasons to be hyped for The Soccer Tournament
#1. This iteration of the game sounds entertaining.
Watching 32 amateur teams play full field, 11-on-11 soccer in accordance with the Laws of the Game would be hell. We've got the European preseason starting around this time if we really want to check that box.
But TST is 7-vs-7 on a smaller field (65 yards long and 45 wide) with smaller goals (6.5 feet high and 18.5 feet wide) and with a whole bunch of rule changes. Substitutions are made on the fly, there are no throw-ins (replaced by indirect free kicks), no offsides, no slide tackles (yellow and red cards still exist) and goalkeepers have only six seconds to release the ball after picking it up (no punts or drop kicks allowed).
The most interesting part is how the timing and scoring works. The games consist of two 20-minute halves and a two-minute halftime break, and the clock only stops for official time-outs and injuries. The game will ultimately be decided using The Basketball Tournament's famed Elam Ending (Target Score Time).
At the end of the 40 minutes, the winner is determined by who reaches The Target Score first during an untimed period. The Target Score is simply one more goal than the leading team's tally, so if Team A has five goals and Team B has three, the Target Score is six goals and they play until that number is reached.
If the teams have the same score after the two 20-minute halves, we're basically just doing golden goal.
Worried about the leading team going cold and the game dragging on at this point? If the Target Score isn't reached in the first 10 minutes of Target Score Time, then one player from each team comes off the pitch for 6-on-6 action. This process is repeated every five minutes after that, all the way down to a potential 1-on-1 scenario.
The format of the competition is tried and true — it's 32 teams and runs just like the 2022 World Cup did, except instead of taking a month to complete, TST packs all its action between Thursday, June 1 (start of group play), and Sunday, June 4 (the championship game).
#2. The teams and players.
It's only the first edition of the tournament but given the success of TBT and the names involved in organizing this, we have some genuinely exciting competitors involved.
Borussia Dortmund: The eight-time Bundesliga champions are bringing a team of club legends, coaches and high-profile personalities. That means Gio Reyna won't be playing, which is sure the enrage his parents.
Wrexham AFC: The stars of Welcome to Wrexham are coming to town, and it's already been confirmed that Ryan Reynolds, Rob McElhenney and player-coach David Jones will be in the squad. They'll be can't-miss viewing.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Wolves! The Premier League side is bringing a roster of club legends.
West Ham: The Premier League squad brings legends like Marlon Harewood, Carlton Cole and Matt Jarvis.
US Women: Captained by USWNT legend Heather O’Reilly (231 caps, 3-time gold medalist, 2015 World Cup champ) and joined by Lori Lindsey (31 caps), Kristine Heavey (née Lilly; 354 caps) and Lori Chalupny (106 caps).
Como 1907: The Serie B team has got Cesc Fábregas.
Conrad & Beasley United: DaMarcus Beasley and Jimmy Conrad serve as the GMs for this squad, and former Real Salt Lake defender Aaron Maund has already been named in the team. Dwayne De Rosario is in too.
Team Dempsey: Clint Dempsey is the GM, and he's currently scouring the nation for undiscovered talent to feature in his squad. Jermaine Jones (69 USMNT caps) is on the roster.
Charlotte FC: The first MLS club to enter the competition. If the Crown wins, they'll donate the $1 million to the AW5 Family Fund (supporting Anton Walkes' family).
Hashtag United: The semi-professional team out of England built its following on the strength of their social media nuance, and they've announced Jack Downer (a viral sensation for his nutmegs) as a player.
OUR FIRST SIGNING FOR @TST7v7Anyone who has nutmegged @neymarjr @rioferdy5 and @miniminter deserves a place on the plane to USA so @street_panna is our first player CONFIRMED FOR TST!
Who else do you want to see play for us in June? pic.twitter.com/GllQ4KyBoO
— Hashtag United (@hashtagutd) February 13, 2023
Club Necaxa: The Liga MX team is coming to Cary, and it's important to note that the club's ownership group includes Mesut Özil and Kate Upton. I'm not saying they're playing, but wouldn't that be great?
Nati SC: The alumni team for FC Cincinnati featuring Omar Cummings and Jimmy McLaughlin.
ZALA FFF: Led by A. J. DeLaGarza (over 200 appearances for LA Galaxy) alongside Mikey Ambrose, Lee Nguyen, Tony Rocha and former Canada WNT member Lauren Sesselmann.
— AJ DeLaGarza (@AJD_20) February 6, 2023
Gracie FC: The Gracie Family is a prominent martial arts family that's well known throughout the MMA world. They're also hailing from Brazil so you know they're good at this sport as well.
Newtown Pride FC: An amateur club from Sandy Hook, Connecticut, that made national news by qualifying for the U.S. Open Cup.
Virginia Dream: This squad features former University of Virginia players and natives of the area.
Villita FC: Pros, ex pros, college players and amateurs will comprise this squad. It's a partnership with San Diego Sockers and Metro Louisville, so they'll have some monsters of the indoor game.
Raleigh Rebels FC: They've already proven to be soccer variant experts by twice winning the OmegaBall Championship.
Say Word FC: A team built to pay homage to North Carolina and all the HBCUs across the country.
Dallas Soccer Alliance: Some of the most talented players from the Dallas area will be on this team.
Far East United: A collection of current and former national team players from across Asia.
Kingdom FC: Organized by brothers Paulie and Cody Califiore, who've been on The Challenge, Fear Factor and Big Brother.
Jackson TN Boom: A squad coming out of Jackson, Tennessee.
#3. The stakes are very real.
This is a winner-takes-all event with $1 million on the line. You can have up to 18 players on your roster, but you could also go with 10 (the minimum) and come home with $100K each after four days of playing soccer.
The teams aren't "just happy to be here" either — they've all got to pay for travel, lodging and other expenses, while the first 10 registered teams paid $10,000 and the next 10 paid $15,000 each. Everyone's here to win.
What we still don't know
We don't know the tournament's broadcast partner, although TBT has previously aired on ESPN and we have to think they're interested in broadcasting this given Wrexham's FA Cup success on ESPN+.
If you're interested in attending, you can purchase tickets now.