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Soccer gaining popularity and fan base in Texas
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Soccer fields can bring in plenty of green--and not just grass--for communities able to host tournaments and similar events. That's part of the vision behind the San Antonio Sports Foundation's (SASF's) efforts to build a soccer complex.

Soccer tournaments around the state help fill thousands of hotel rooms and can bring millions of dollars into host cities. SASF hopes to bring tournament money for all levels of play to San Antonio, while providing the city's youth teams with plenty of fields on which to play. SASF is a nonprofit that works to bring high profile athletic events to San Antonio.

"San Antonio is woefully behind other cities in the number of youth soccer fields," said Susan Blackwood, executive director of SASF.

If you build it
SASF is working with the city of San Antonio to make a soccer complex a reality as quickly as possible, even though no firm timeline exists, Blackwood said.

"If funding were available overnight, it would take probably a year to a year and a half," she said. "But, it's not. The city has $1 million that they've set aside [for the project], but that's not enough."

The group is looking at a couple of potential sites for fields, including city land where the now-closed Brooks Air Force Base once stood, Blackwood said. San Antonio lost some soccer fields to growth in the northwest quadrant of the city, she said, and relocating them--plans include relocating possibly as many as 24 fields--would help the SASF in its mission to attract high-profile athletic events to the city, which would benefit both San Antonio and the state.

"When it comes to economic impact for the state, we could make a field on your block and one on ours, but that's not going to help us attract tournaments," Blackwood said. "They [the fields] have to be contiguous."

The overflowing Cup
But for an amateur, youth soccer tournament, such as the annual Dallas Cup, just mow the grass, chalk out boundary lines and throw out a soccer ball, right? Not quite.

"We're a year-round organization, and the amount of work that goes into putting together a tournament of this nature--it's incredible," said Gordon Jago, executive director of the Dallas Cup, which will hold its 26th tournament in March 2005. "We're not the biggest in numbers as far as tournaments go, but we're a full, week-long tournament."

Paul Gardner, a journalist who has covered soccer tournaments worldwide, said the Dallas Cup's size is the result of a commitment to high-caliber play.

"It's not as big because they're interested in the quality of play in the tournament," he said. "The Dallas Cup more than holds its own in terms of the quality of play."

The invitation-only Dallas Cup brings 160 teams from across Texas, the U.S. and the world to Dallas each year. The level of play among its six divisions is unparalleled in youth soccer, Jago said.

While in Dallas, the players--almost 3,000 of them--and their coaches, parents and more than 150,000 fans do more than just attend soccer matches; they spend money. When the soccer world converges on Dallas each year, members rent more than 6,000 hotel room nights and consume more than 100,000 restaurant meals during the tournament's weeklong run.

When all is said and done, it's about a $4 million economic boost to the area, not including tax revenue from the hotel rooms or airline revenue from attendees, according to Jago.

Plano hosts an annual Labor Day tournament that pulls in more than 500 teams that play on more than 50 fields in Plano and the surrounding area, according to Bob Black, executive director of North Texas Soccer (NTS). NTS is a nonprofit organization that promotes soccer in that part of the state.

Mark Thompson, director of the Plano Convention and Visitors Bureau said the tournament benefits more than just the Plano area and is getting more popular every year.

"It's grown tremendously even in the last seven years," he said. "Seven thousand room nights for the 2004 tourney, and of those, the majority are actually outside of the Plano area; 3,243 were in Plano, but another 4,064 outside of Plano. So, it's good not only for Plano, but for the entire North Texas region."

Frisco, Texas, which is rapidly positioning itself as the soccer capital of Texas, will host the 2005 Southern Regional Championships in June 2005. Motel rooms will be scarce, Black said, and that's just how he likes it.

"[We] will do some 14,000 to 18,000 room nights in Frisco between June 23rd to the 30th," he said. "Now, find me another event that can do that. They're coming here for the events that we're putting on."

Beyond just what happens on the field or to the pocket book, Jago said the real, lasting effects of the Dallas Cup and other large tournaments are the friendships born of competition. He cites the presence of a 2004 Cup team comprising nine Israeli youths and nine Palestinian youths. They came together as enemies, he said, and left as friends. It's that spirit, he feels, that makes San Antonio's venture--or any city's, for that matter--worth it.

"It would give those people the most wonderful experience they could ever wish for," he said. "I'm absolutely convinced of that, after witnessing those Israeli and Palestinian boys this year. Any area that gets an opportunity [to host an event], aside from the economic side, it's an experience I'm sure they will never ever forget."

Eyes on the goal
Youth players hope for a chance someday at professional soccer, which has been played outdoors in Texas since 1996 when Major League Soccer (MLS) debuted in 10 cities across the United States, including Dallas. Twelve MLS teams will take the field for the 2005 season.

FC Dallas--formerly the Dallas Burn--will move north from the Cotton Bowl to Frisco, where a new $65 million stadium will be home to the MLS club starting in May 2005. The stadium and its surrounding complex of offices and 17 tournament-grade playing fields--117 acres in all--will help cement FC Dallas as the soccer capital of Texas, according to the club's director of communications, Mark Janko.

"Moving to Frisco is going to be so important for us," Janko said. "We want to create the number one soccer destination, not only in Texas but in the U.S."

NTS will have offices in the new complex, as will the U.S. Youth Soccer Association, Janko said. FC Dallas' stadium, while not even built yet, is already slated to host the MLS championship game in 2005, in addition to Frisco Independent School District football games and concerts.

And while the available attractions expand, ticket prices will remain low.

"Our ticket average is $13.35," Janko said. "We've lowered our ticket [prices for] 82 percent of the seats from what they were in the Cotton Bowl."

Frisco's population of children between the ages of zero and four outnumbers that of kids ages five to 18, according to Janko. It's that future fan base FC Dallas wants to turn on to soccer.

"The kids in Frisco, right now, we want those kids to grow up and think 'I want to play there some day,'" he said.

Clint Shields