Monday, July 10, 2006

McSoccerfest: Simple Soccer for the Masses

Oops! The Curmudgeon got real busy the last few days, especially with taking the boys to the McDonald's Soccerfest in Columbia, Maryland this weekend, so we haven't posted since last Wednesday--sorry about that!

We'll get back to all the political stuff and consumer whining shortly, but for now a plug for McSoccerfest, as it is known.

I'm Lovin' It

The McSoccerfest has been around for a number of years and is one of the larger soccer tournaments on the East Coast. Despite some misgivings about McDonald's as the sponsor of a youth sporting tournament, we think it's a great event.

First off, it was really well-organized. The people running it were friendly, responsive, knowledgable and generally experienced.

The venue was also great: the tourney took place at a large soccerplex in Centennial Park near Columbia, Maryland. Some of the fields were artificial turf and some were grass; all of the ones we played were in fine condition. While there is not enough onsite parking for everyone, there was ample parking and regular shuttle bus service nearby. All my kids and parents made it without significant delays.

(An aside for our Virginia readers: Maryland has some wonderful roads, at least around Columbia. You won't find much that compares in Northern Virginia, because the GOP mavens who run things in Richmond think we're just a piggy bank for the rest of the state.)

Best of all, as far as we're concerned, is the tournament format and its informality. Most soccer tournaments are organized for and limited to so-called "club" or "travel" teams. They involve a lot of paperwork, are expensive and have lots of rules about everything. They're intentionally exclusive. We'll resist the temptation to say something snooty about them.

Big Tent Soccer

McSoccerfest is simple and inclusive. All games in the tournament are 4 v 4: that is, four players against four players on a small field with no goalies. They have brackets for recreational teams, travel teams and "elite" teams in just about every age bracket from 6 years old to over 35 years old. Rosters can have no more than six players, so everyone on a team gets plenty of playing time.

There is no requirement that players be from an existing team--you can form one up just for the tournament. (I had two teams; my older son's consisted of six players from his existing team; my younger son's was a true "pick-up" team, with players from four different regular teams.)

The registration process is fairly simple, and there are no elaborate rules for player "cards", uniforms, etc. (For our pick-up team, we made up a name--"Lightning Aces"--and had yellow T-shirts printed up the day before the tournament.)

Unlike most travel tournaments, where games are played over two days, all games in the McSoccerfest are played in one day--really a half day (they have a morning session and an afternoon session). Games are short--only 20 minutes--but quite intense. Each team is guaranteed at least 3 games, and many get four games.

The cost is relatively low--$115 per team (or $140 if you find out late, like we did), compared to $400-$500 for a travel tournament.

And while McDonald's is the title sponsor, there wasn't any McDonald's food (other than free coffee and some occasional free samples) on site. There were some food vendors, however--frankly, they made us wish for Mickie-D's.

All in all, the boys had a blast. We didn't win anything, but we were certainly competitive in our divisions. We even got home in time to watch the bad sportsmanship in the World Cup finale.

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