In 2008, Schwan’s USA CUP and PUMA undertook a multi-faceted initiative to raise the caliber of teams playing in the Western Hemisphere’s largest youth soccer tournament. At the weekend tournament of this summer’s Schwan’s USA CUP, the PUMA vElite Group will continue as part of that plan.
The eight-team PUMA vElite Group offers a select “tournament within a tournament” in which four of PUMA’s top premier clubs in the United States face off against four top international and domestic teams selected by Schwan’s USA CUP staff. The teams will compete in the U16 boys’ top flight.
The 2009 vElite Group will include the Tottenham Hotspur U16 side.
“I view it as a huge compliment that Hotspurs accepted the invitation to play in the PUMA vElite,” said Teri Vogt, USA CUP tournament director. The Hotspur are equally flattered about the invitation. “The Tottenham Hotspur Academy competes in international tournaments all over the world and as the biggest youth soccer tournament in the United States, we are extremely pleased to be taking part in the 2009 USA CUP,” said Paul Barber, executive director of the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
“We have a young team,” said Assistant Academy Manager/Head of Player Development Chris Ramsey, in an e-mail. “We play a 4-3-3 system and base our football on building up from the back to emphasize maximum development of the individual not the team.”
Other PUMA vElite teams confirmed for 2009:
- Snohomish United (WA): Snohomish United fielded over 35 select level teams this past season with over 3,000 players registered in the club and competing at all levels and leagues in the Washington Youth Soccer, SYSA & the PDL leagues. The team plays an attractive passing/penetrating style, with solid defensive principles, said technical director for the team, Gary White, in an e-mail. “Our players are encouraged to express their creativity and flair on both sides of the ball,” White said.
- Rockford Raptors (IL): The Rockford Raptors joined the vElite initiative last year and are quickly establishing their presence. The U16 Raptors won the Midwest Cup Soccer Tournament over Memorial Day weekend this year and just won the US Clubs Regional Championships. “We’re bringing the strongest group we can,” said coach Paul Roe in an e-mail. This meant bringing up several U15 boys “so we can show off the PUMA name a little better,” Roe said.
- TSF Academy (NJ): Established in 2005, TSF Academy is a relatively young program. “In the short period of time the club has been in existence, TSF has fielded teams that have won the New Jersey State Cup and the Super Y National Championship, along with many finalists in both,” said team leader Neal Bellet in an e-mail. So far this season, the TSF Panthers have won the 2009 Match-Fit Invitational and the 2009 Potomac Memorial. “The TSF Academy Panthers like to build from the back while using the entire field as it attacks,” Bellet said.
- Charlotte United (NC): Charlotte United is the largest classic soccer club in North Carolina. Its 92 Gold team went undefeated at Disney, Jefferson, Mathews Invitational and Julian Brown this season. But team leader Rob Dalton said in an e-mail that it will be a brand new team at USA CUP, as several of the season’s starters moved on to play at the USSF Development Academy and four U15 players will compete in U16 for the first time at the tournament. “This will be the very first time these guys have played together … keep your fingers crossed,” Dalton said.
- Brooklyn Italians (NY): Founded in 1949 by Italian-American immigrants, the Brooklyn Italians is the oldest Italian-American soccer club in the United States. The Brooklyn Italians won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup twice and have produced notable soccer figures Shalrie Joseph; Juan Carlos Osorio, current New York Red Bulls coach; and Chivas USA assistant coach Carlos Llamosa. “Our goal is to have a strong showing at the Schwan’s USA CUP,” said director of coaching Maciej Sliwinski in an e-mail.
- Ontario Erin Mills (Canada): Erin Mills Eagles competes in the Ontario Youth Soccer League, which is rated overall annually as one of the best leagues in Canada. Last season, the team had a winning record of 11-0-3, upholding a strong tradition. “Erin Mills Eagles did not lose a regular season game in the past three seasons,” said team leader Heather Brooks in an e-mail.
- Lions FC Red (TX): This will be the first tournament of the year for Lions FC Red as the team generally only attends showcases, said director of coaching Peter Moore. The Lions play in the Division 1 Bracket in San Antonio, and some of the best high school players are part of their team, Moore said. They’re looking forward to vElite and are “pleased to be part of PUMA.”