Members of FC Georgia United and Conejo 76 congratulate each other after playing to a 2-2 draw. The two teams would meet again in the Men's Over-65 final, with FC Georgia taking a 1-0 victory.
Soccer News: USASA Veterans Cup is More than Just another Tournament
The U.S. Adult Soccer Association’s (USASA) fifteenth annual Veterans Cup hit the pitch at Frances Ryan Park in Escondido, California, from June 26 to July 1 with 95 registered teams of players ages 30 and over. This year the Veterans Cup was hosted by Cal South, with support from the San Diego Sports Commission.
While the games may not have the speed of your typical college or professional matches, there is no doubt that the level of intensity rivals anything you will find at a younger age. These men and women – some as “young” as their 70s – truly love the beautiful game and each of them was there to win, and win big if they could.
San Diego provided the beautiful setting with perfect climate and the action on the field was an excellent example of why soccer is called the beautiful game.
The Veterans Cup is more than just a tournament for older athletes. As many of the players proudly pointed out, the Veterans Cup is a huge family that gathers once a year to celebrate the many triumphs and joys that have taken place. It is also an opportunity for these senior players to show that soccer is not just a game for the young.
One example is the FC Georgia United Over-65 men’s team, which earlier this year made an appearance with Georgia Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle.
The team reached the semifinal round in 2009 and won the 2010, 2011 and this year the 2012 titles in their division. The average age of the team is about 68, with the oldest player being 75. In spite of their age, the team is unbeaten over their last 15 Veterans Cup games, dating back to the 2009 semifinals when they lost 1-0.
Georgia team captain Bob Mellow, originally from Bermuda, is one example of the longevity in the sport. Now 72, Mellow began playing at age 5 and has continued almost constantly ever since. Teammate Dietmar Doehring started when he was 9 and has kept playing for nearly 60 years now.
|FC Georgia United (purple) played Conejo 76 to a 2-2 draw on Friday, June 28, before beating them 1-0 for the Men's Over-65 title on Sunday, July 1
“When we go to the doctors they can’t believe our age,” says Doehring. “It’s the exercise.”
Asked about the team’s routine, Mellow explained, “We play three or four times a week, the nucleus of the Georgia guys, and we play virtually all year around. Then we really kick it up in February or March to prepare for this tournament. So we take this seriously, but it’s a lot of fun for us.”
“We are in the fourth quarter [of life],” joked Doehring, “and some of us are in overtime. We are all very happy and thankful that we can still play the game. When I called some of the people we played with back in the ‘80s about joining the team their response was, ‘You’re doing what?’”
Ahmet Giaffo, who is team captain of the Conejo 76 Over-65 team that challenged Georgia for the 2012 title, is in complete agreement on the social and health benefits of being involved with the Veterans Cup.
“I’m 75, myself,” said Giaffo. “It’s a joy to come in and play at this is wonderful tournament. It’s an occasion we get to see each other and we have a good time. We really enjoy it. Even though we compete against each other, we’re still friends.”
“Soccer helps me physically and mentally,” he explained. “I’m a diabetic, so by playing it helps me to keep the blood sugar down and gives me a little more ‘get-go.’”
Giaffo also talked about the difference between adult soccer in America and much of the rest of the world. “This is the only country where people of my age still play,” he said. “Europe and South America are known for soccer, but after 35 nobody touches a ball. This is the only country where you can still play when you’re 70 or 80. Yesterday I saw a player who is 80 years old. Imagine that, 80 years old and still kicking.”
|San Diego Celtic (green) defeated Camp Springs 1-0 to earn their way to the playoffs, eventually falling to Leahi O50 in the Women's Over-50 division
“I think this is important for our family,” said Artie Monroe, coach of San Diego Celtics Women’s Over-50. The core of the team has been together for over a decade, and some played at the very first Veterans Cup in 1998. “These women are part of our family. We have people who have gone through cancer, through marital issues, but it’s this sisterhood that keeps us together. We don’t just play because we love soccer, we play because it gives us that friendship and keeps us a community”
“This event is great,” said Mike Mahoney of USASA. “It becomes a family event. These people plan their vacation trips around the tournament, so we always try to find a resort city where they can enjoy other things. They just want to keep playing. One year we had a team from Japan that were all in their 70s. These guys just want to continue playing. The Over-65 group is amazing to me. These guys are saying there is still soccer after high school and college. They get together with their friends and make a team and plan this year after year.”
Luis Salcedo, Cal South’s Director of Competition and Membership Development, sees the Veterans Cup as important on several levels. “It’s important because we want to promote soccer for all ages and all skill levels,” he said. “I don’t think there has ever been an event like this in Southern California. For us it’s about meeting the demand from our soccer community, both our membership as well as soccer fanatics.”
|The Veterans Cup not only brings together players, but referees as well. This year included FIFA International referee Ioannis Stavridis of Greece, who has worked throughout Europe, and rookie referee Noah Lagoe who was working his first-ever game as a linesman.
“The players participating in this event are the pioneers of soccer in America,” Salcedo pointed out. “They started playing before AYSO because of their family’s involvement in the game or their culture. These are the soccer pioneers, and for them to continue playing the game that they love and still be passionate about it is great for us, and it teaches younger kids that this is a game for life. You can play as a kid and you can play throughout your life.”
One person who has a unique view of the Veterans Cup is John Motta, who is Chairman of the USASA Referee Committee. While he spends a good deal of time planning and organizing the referee assignments, Motta takes the opportunity to watch as many matches as possible. Although this is primarily to evaluate the referees for future assignments, he also has an eye to the quality of play on the pitch.
“I believe the level of competition of the teams has jumped up a whole level at every age group,” Motta said. “I was watching women’s Over-60s a few years ago and it was like watching grass grow. Today they were competitive. I watched a Women’s Over-30, and in my opinion it was the best women’s game I have seen at any level, including our National Cup, for the last ten years. I made a comment that I would have put either of those teams against our U.S. Women’s National Team and they would have given them a run for their money. It was that quality of the game.”
Dan Trainor is the USASA Region IV Director as well as the Commissioner for the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), which will hold their championship series in San Diego in late July. He explained that the Veterans Cup was originally designed with the average player in mind, but the competition and skill levels have grown since that time.
“A lot of people don’t realize the level of play and competitiveness of the older players,” he said. “Even though they may be 60 years old, they still have the drive to win. They may not move as fast, but the desire is still there, so you see some very good games and some very good skills, even though it may be a little slower.”
|On Friday night over 700 players, family members and USASA officials gathered at the San Diego Hall of Champions for the annual Veterans Cup Celebration
Another important element of the Veterans Cup, according to Veterans Cup Chairman Cezar Wasecki, is the mix of people who participate. “You have former soccer players, and those are the 30s and 40s and others who have grown up with it,” he said. “Then on the women’s side you have the Title IX players who didn’t have an event before and didn’t have organized leagues. This tournament is what they go to now. They come for the competition.”
If Wasecki has his way, the Veterans Cup will continue to grow. The San Diego competition ranks third on the list for most teams with 95, behind the two years in Massachusetts with 110 each time. He believes that that can top 120 teams in the near future. But that is not where his sights are set.
“I have a vision for the Veterans Cup,” Wasecki said. “The Gothia Cup in Sweden is the largest youth tournament and teams come from all over the world. That’s what I would like the Veterans Cup to become. I want this to be an annual event where teams come from all over the world to compete in the U.S.”
That vision is echoed by Duncan Riddle, USASA’s Chief Executive Director. Formerly with Ashton Villa of the English Premier League, Riddle sees amazing growth potential in the Veterans Cup, including international growth. USASA has been in communication with organizations in Europe and would like to see teams coming to future Veterans Cups.
“The Veterans Cup is an amazing competition,” Riddle said. “It’s our biggest competition and I’m very positive about it. I actually think it can grow because you see it’s the perfect competition. You have people who just love to play, and they want to have a good time as well – and this just combines the two. It’s a wonderful competition.”
Some of the 95 teams that participated in the 2012 USASA Veterans Cup (clockwise from upper left): FC Georgia United Men's Over-65,
Conejo 76 Men's Over-65, Camp Springs Women Over-50, San Diego Celtic Women's Over-50
2012 Veterans Cup Results
Houston Challengers 4, Massachusetts Spirit 3
San Francisco 6, Santa Cruz Breakers 1
Leahi O50 6, San Diego Celtics 0
Seattle’s Best 1, Motor City Classics 0
Lone Star Strikers 2, San Diego Celtics 1
Sudaca FC 2, Club Italia 1
Nomads 1, Utah Schalke 40 Cougars 0
Cast/Sam Adams 4, NEOTHSL 1
Cardinal Gray 3, Urban Chestnut 1
Phoenix Club 55 Anaheim 4, NC United 1
Oklahoma United 3, Phoenix 0
FC Georgia United 65 1, Conejo 76 0
Complete Veterans Cup results
Related Article: USASA Veterans Cup - More than a Soccer Game