On Sunday, Dallas welcomes the world.
The 32nd annual Dallas Cup, North America’s top youth tournament, gets underway this weekend as 70 youth soccer teams from overseas line up against the best youth teams the US has to offer.
Among those playing are academy teams some of the biggest clubs in the world, including Arsenal, Corinthians and Barcelona. It’s that list of international teams that has the tournament’s executive director Gordon Jago excited about this year’s iteration.
“The number of international teams coming this year has been very, very positive for us,” he told MLSsoccer in a phone interview. “It shows that we are respected around the world.”
Plenty of future stars could be on display, if the past is anything to go by. Previous participants include Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu and Michael Owen.
In all, a total of 180 teams will play in this year’s Dallas Cup from ages 13-19. To go with the 70 teams from abroad, 30 are from the Dallas area, and the remaining 80 squads come from across the United States.
Six MLS teams are sending youth squads – FC Dallas, D.C. United, Vancouver, Houston and Real Salt Lake will have U-16 and U-18 sides there, while the Chicago Fire are represented by Fire Juniors U-16 and U-17 teams from Naperville, Illinois.
Four of those teams will take part in the Gordon Jago Super Group, the tournament’s centerpiece of 16 U-19 teams that includes Barcelona and Arsenal.
Each MLS team faces different challenges in their respective four-team bracket. FC Dallas face a difficult prospect in Bracket B, the same group as Barcelona and Japan’s U-18 national team. Meanwhile, Vancouver and Real Salt Lake are both in Bracket C, while Houston joins Brazilian club Curitiba FC and Frankfurt in Bracket D.
“It’s a very strong looking Super Group and I’ve got a feeling there are going to be some really big battles to see who goes through,” Jago said.
MLS squads will call upon eligible professionals to bolster their sides. Jonathan Top, Victor Ulloa and Ruben Luna (picture right) will be amongst the Home Grown signings to play for FC Dallas, while Real Salt Lake plans on bringing US youth international Luis Gil and recent Home Grown addition Donny Toia.
Houston Dynamo director of youth development James Clarkson is looking forward to the test, as three Dynamo Academy teams will compete next week.
“This is the level of competition we really want to test ourselves against,” he said. “This will give us a real gauge as to what sort of progress we’re making and whether we’re going in the right direction.”
Outside of the big international clubs, there are teams from all corners of the earth descending on Dallas. England, India, South Africa, Canada, Puerto Rico, Japan and even the Cayman Islands will all be represented at various age levels throughout the week.
Jago said that 30 of the teams have home stays lined up with families in the Dallas area, allowing the competition to host so many teams from outside the area.
With that influx of teams from abroad, American youth clubs get the unique opportunity to play against opposition they’ve never faced before – every single bracket (45 in total) has at least one team from abroad.
The challenge begins Sunday morning in the Dallas region.