Organizers build local bridge with global soccer event

The schedule was simple back then. Bracketing didn’t take much thought. There were two soccer teams in the local Catholic Youth Organization, and they played each other six straight weeks. That was the season. Six matches between Our Lady of Las Vegas and St. Francis De Sales.

"Youth soccer was still an experimental thing when we were growing up," Roger Tabor said. "But it was still the greatest thing in the world for me."

He is 51 and still owns such passion.

The bracketing part has become a bit trickier.

Tabor is president of Downtown Las Vegas Soccer Club and this weekend will direct what in just two years under the city and his club’s guidance has become an international tournament rivaled by no one across the country.

Some numbers to consider about the Mayor’s Cup International Showcase: 246 boys and girls teams ranging in age from 15 to 19 will be here; more entrants (49) are from foreign countries than Nevada (40); 523 games will be played on 27 fields between Saturday and Monday, which will require 1,569 referee shifts, which if he gets half of those filled with qualified people means Tabor probably also can walk on water and feed thousands with a few fish and loaves; the tournament takes more than 400 volunteers to run, and more than 60 college coaches are expected to attend; the local economic impact alone for hotels is in the $1 million range.

The world’s best youth team will be here. It is an Under-17 club from Germany called Borussia Moenchengladbach, which if anything would create amusement watching Oscar Goodman try to say the name 10 times fast should the mayor present the Germans a trophy on Monday.

The tournament again is in addition to the annual fall Mayor’s Cup, another chance for the city to showcase fields at venues such as Bettye Wilson and Kellogg-Zaher, another opportunity for Las Vegas to demonstrate how far it has traveled in making youth soccer significant here.

And yet the journey isn’t finished by any stretch. Not by a goal from 40 yards out.

Think about this: There are more registered youth soccer players per capita in Boise, Idaho, than Nevada. Fewer players are registered in Las Vegas than in any city nationally.

Youth soccer here never will rival that in Southern California. It never will have the numbers or summer climate.

What it has had, particularly with clubs, is organizational issues often led by corrupt adults caring only for their interests.

What it needs are more people like Tabor, who played at Bishop Gorman and UNLV, making things good and honest over time.

When you cast a net around recreational leagues like AYSO and those at the club level, you can influence thousands of kids in a positive manner. Soccer is a wonderful sport for them. It just needs to be run by those with the best intentions of those children.

"I’m trying to build bridges for youth soccer in this community," said Tabor, whose Downtown teams charge players 20 percent less on average than other area clubs. "Kids are missing opportunities. Soccer is a game that should be inclusive for all. That’s the charm of it.

"A tournament like this has the kind of global outreach that can really put Las Vegas on the map."

It’s also a college recruiter’s dream, so many skilled players from so many spots around the world gathered within a few miles of each other.

Kat Mertz loves it. So does Mario Sanchez. Both head soccer coaches from UNLV will attend the event, and both the Rebels women and men will host games against tournament teams.

The men on Tuesday at 7 will play that German tongue-twister Borussia Moenchengladbach, which the Rebels beat 4-2 in a similar match last year. It was 2-2 in the second half.

"(Youth) soccer in Nevada is somewhat isolated," Sanchez said. "They don’t get top-level competition week in and week out. A tournament like this allows for that, and we as coaches can see kids play against other top players in our own backyard."

Said Mertz: "It’s a way for us to bring recruits on campus with parents and show them what UNLV is all about while they are here. We always want to first keep the Nevada talent home, but the chance to watch this many players without leaving town is great."

Think of all the styles of soccer to be played here this week. The languages by which coaches will instruct. The flags of so many countries that will be displayed. The world’s game contested so skillfully by its youth.

Roger Tabor knows how to build a bridge, all right. This one just happens to be a tad bigger than those epic CYO clashes he played in.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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