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Opening Ceremony highlights first day of tournament

07/16/2013, 12:30pm CDT
By Ryan Lund

Schwan’s USA CUP, powered by Sport Ngin, hit another milestone tonight, as this year’s opening ceremonies filled NSC Stadium with music, memories and plenty of ice cream.

National Sports Center Director Paul Erickson, Sport Ngin CEO Justin Kaufenberg, Eastbay Brand Director Steve Horn and Schwan’s Jason Von Bank kicked off the event as USA CUP’s primary sponsors, before the parade officially got underway.

A coalition of teams from Colombia led the parade to commemorate the South American nation’s 25th anniversary at USA CUP, followed by teams from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Canada.

Not to be overlooked, White Bear Lake Soccer Club celebrated a significant milestone of its own: the Minnesota-based club’s 29th year at the tournament.

Minnesota Thunder Academy followed a few teams later, having already taken home a pair of titles in the girls’ U14 and boys’ U16 divisions of the Super Elite tournament.

Representing the tournament’s Japanese contingent, Ibaraki FC entered alongside perennial powerhouse Tokiwagi Gauken, whose U16 girls’ squad stormed to a 5-0 victory in the Super Elite Championship game.

Tokiwagi is particularly notable for its participation in USA CUP’s homestay program, which works to place incoming players with local families throughout the duration of the tournament.

Tokiwagi player Ayano Iwaki spoke fondly of her host family following the team’s win in the Super Elite Tournament.

“I’ve been able to learn English a bit,” she said through a translator. “I feel that they are really nice people because they’ve been worrying about us.  They make us feel at home.”

Teams from Great Britain, Chile, Mexico, Newfoundland, Uganda and Denmark followed, with plenty of more local clubs in between.

Amongst the Minnesota clubs to take part, St. Croix Soccer Association captured a title of its own during the weekend tournament, winning the boys’ U14 Super Elite Division.

National soccer icon Tony Sanneh’s Haitian Initiative made a splash once again the parade.  Hailing from the impoverished Cite Soleil area of the country’s capital of Port au Prince, the Haitian delegation has been one of the tournament’s teams to watch thus far.

Sandwiched in between clubs from British Columbia and Puerto Rico, St. Paul Blackhawks FC took the field near the end of the parade, representing one of USA CUP’s most storied teams. Blackhawks FC has participated in USA CUP since its inception in 1985, and remains the winningest club in tournament history.

Finally, community-based soccer program Top Soccer rounded out the parade, representing athletes with physical and mental disabilities in a player development-oriented program.

Minnesota United FC took the field as the ceremonies’ honorary color presenters, in preparation for the team’s tilt with Flyover Cup rival FC Edmonton Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

Following the anthem, the now traditional tournament skydivers made their entrance at 5,000 feet courtesy of Skydive Twin Cities.

Following the pair’s daring drop, the USA CUP torch finally made an appearance, dedicated to this year’s USA CUP cancer-fighting initiative, Kick Cancer.

Leading the procession, 13-year-old Sami Miller will be dedicating her performance at the tournament to leukemia.  Miller was followed by Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor and USA CUP staff member Clinton Labeau.

Next on the list, Steve Roecklein entered the stadium as the vice-president of the Minnesota Cancer Coalition accompanied by Bert Logo, an Ontario-native and prostate cancer survivor.

Mindy Dykes, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, continued the procession, followed by Myelodysplastic Syndrome survivor Luke Williams of Foreston, Minnesota.  Rounding out the pediatric cancer delegation was Zeffen Thurow, a brain cancer survivor from Brainerd, Minnesota, who will be guest-playing with Brazilian team Rio de Janeiro Select.

A U19 boys’ soccer team from the Twin Cities suburban NSSA Phoenix joined the Breast Cancer delegation, led by player Kyle O’Connor, who recently lost his mother to a lengthy battle with breast cancer.  Breast Cancer Awareness Association founder and cancer survivor Ann Harris joined the parade, as well.

The torch-lighting closed with a fireworks display, followed by the 2nd annual Rock the CUP celebration, featuring Minnesota-based country music recording artist Jeremiah James Korfe.

Korfe launched into a setlist featuring selections from his debut album A Little Something for Everyone, recorded alongside his band From Joyce, as well as a number of popular covers.

The concert capped a wild evening celebrating the hundreds of teams and cultures on display at Schwan’s USA CUP, as America’s largest youth soccer tournament got underway in style.

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Tag(s): July 16, 2013