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NCAA Mar 07, 2012

Richmond Strikers eager to kick off another massive Jefferson Cup

By Charles Boehm

It’s already advanced into the ranks of the nation’s top youth soccer tournaments over its 32 years of existence, and the organizers of the Jefferson Cup believe the 2012 edition represents their most talented guest list yet.

Hosted by the Richmond Strikers Soccer Club, the enormous event will draw some 700 top teams to nearly a dozen locales across the Richmond, Va. area for spirited competition over the next two weekends, starting with the kickoff of boys’ competition at 8 a.m. this Friday.

Boys’ weekend runs through Sunday afternoon, featuring Under-10 through U-18 action with three to seven divisions per age level, as well as a high-profile spring match between mid-Atlantic NCAA powers Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Maryland. Several Elite Clubs National League, U.S. Soccer Development Academy and Atlantic Soccer League games are also taking place in conjunction with the tournament.

“The quality of the competition has increased,” Steve D’Adamo, the Strikers’ assistant director of tournaments and a veteran coach at the club, told The Soccer Wire this week. “Our applicant pool was larger this year, which means the quality of teams is also better. Some of our championship groups are going to be diverse and the brackets are really competitive.

“Every [U.S. Soccer] region is represented in our top age groups at the tournament this year, which we’re really excited about.”

Interest in the Jefferson Cup has grown to the point that the Strikers now must turn away nearly as many applicants as they accept, leading to the addition of a third, “qualifying” weekend for girls’ teams, which takes place March 24-25. Such high demand naturally promotes a high level of play, especially among the top-tier divisions, which will feature a bevy of regional and national powers from the likes of Arizona, Vermont, Wisconsin, New York, South Carolina and beyond.

“In our U-17 group, we have eight teams in the top group, and eight different states represented,” explained D’Adamo. “We have a regional champ, regional finalists and a regional semifinalist, all from different regions, out of those eight teams. Then we have some other state champions in there also. So that should be a very solid group.

“We have some of the same at the U-16 [level] also,” he added. “We have a regional semifinalist from Wisconsin, we have a regional finalist from Maryland, we have two other state champs, two other state finalists. So the U-16 championship group has eight teams from seven different states…We’re really excited about the quality of our older groups this weekend.”

The U-10 to U-15 divisions will play a “championship” format with multiple games on Saturday and Sunday, while U-16 and older will compete in a “showcase format” with one game per day over three days in order to maximize the quality of play on display for the hundreds of college scouts in attendance. Last year’s Jefferson Cup drew over 400 onlookers from a wide range of NCAA and NAIA programs and the 2012 schedule has been tweaked to make their task – as well as the logistics for teams, parents and other fans – easier.

“In our non-showcase ages, every top group is going to be at Striker Park,” said D’Adamo. “So we basically have the championship groups all in one location, regardless of their ages, and the showcase ages are basically all at West Creek, except for a few games at SportsQuest. I think we’ve done a good job this year of consolidating where some of the best soccer is going to be played at the younger ages, as well as where most of the college coaches are going to be positioned for recruiting purposes.”

In a welcome change from a cold, soggy 2011, fairly mild weather is expected in Richmond this weekend, with a 40 percent chance of rain on Friday morning the only blemish on a forecast that suggests temperatures will hover in a soccer-friendly range between 40 and 65 degrees.

As usual, the Jefferson Cup will be spread across several venues using both natural grass and artificial turf fields, with the majority of games taking place at the sprawling, all-turf SportsQuest complex in Midlothian, Va., the West Creek fields in Henrico, Va. and the host club’s own Striker Park in Glen Allen, Va.

Beyond the Richmond area’s many historic sites and quirky neighborhoods, visiting teams can also unwind post-game by taking in the Maryland vs. VCU match at VCU’s downtown Sports Backers Stadium on Friday night as well as a unique event at the Richmond Coliseum on Saturday evening: the season opener for the Richmond Raiders, the capital city’s arena football team. Discounted tickets are available for Jefferson Cup participants.

[ +Visit the Jefferson Cup home page for more information ]