More than 25,000 players will be participating in youth soccer tournaments this weekend across Eastern Pennsylvania in what is traditionally one of the busiest weekends of the fall season.
Five tournaments sanctioned by Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer will be taking place, from the Jack Walsh Memorial Tournament in Montgomery County, the West Lehigh United Fall Fest to the Dillsburg Dual Shootout and Penn FC Youth Coppa Classico in Central PA to the Columbus Day Explorer Cup taking place at multiple venues around the region.
The 32nd Annual Jack Walsh Memorial Tournament is the largest of the tournaments happening across the Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day Weekend. Hosted by Hunter SC and Upper Dublin SC, the tournament named in memory of a long-time volunteer who died in 2001 will host 544 teams this year on Saturday and Sunday.
“We’re just excited that so many teams are interested in coming,” said Franziskus “Fifi” Bertl, tournament administrator. “I think people like that everyone is welcome and that we have competition for teams at all different age groups and levels.”
Played in and around the two club’s home bases in Glenside and Upper Dublin, the tournament attracts a lot of location Eastern PA clubs and others from neighboring states. Funds raised from the tournament benefit the hosting clubs. Initially a Hunter SC event, they joined forces with Upper Dublin six years ago.
“It’s been really nice to have the clubs working together and to see the growth,” Bertl said. “When it started there were 20 teams and now look where we are.”
It takes more than 250 volunteers to run the event, said Bertl, who is no stranger to big events as the founder and president of the United World Games in his native Austria and was a site coordinator for the US Youth Soccer Eastern President Cup held in Conshohocken and Plymouth Meeting last summer.
“My favorite part is just doing the award ceremony, seeing all the happy kids receiving the awards,” Bertl said. “I also enjoy getting to meet all the coaches and see all the clubs coming back year after year.”
Dillsburg Area Soccer Club’s Dillsburg Dual Shootout started the same year as the Jack Walsh Memorial Tournament. They’ll host 300 teams this weekend in a tournament known for its penalty shootouts.
“The shootout is similar to what the MLS used to do a long time ago,” said Tournament Director Mike Flowers. “Five players from each team get the ball from a mark outside the area and they have five seconds to try to score on the goalkeeper.”
In addition to preserving a piece of American soccer lore — the run-up shootout predated MLS in the North American Soccer League days — the Dillsburg tournament also maintains the tradition of patches and provides temporary tattoos for all the players.
“It’s a unique tournament,” Flowers said. “We’re not here for ratings; we’re here for kids to have fun and be competitive and we mostly get club travel teams. It’s mostly for those kids who never get to play in a tournament and have fun. It’s not for high level points or anything like that.”
The tournament is a fundraiser for the club but also for a number of partner clubs and organizations that run sites.
“It’s a big thing for Dillsburg,” Flowers said. “The town gets excited and the restaurants and businesses are involved.”
The Dillsburg tournament is one of two in the Central Pennsylvania area this weekend. Penn FC Youth is hosting the 11th Coppa Classico. The club will be hosting 361 teams this weekend.
“We’re excited about the number of teams that come in from other places,” said Bill Becher, director of the tournament. “We have five states represented this year. It’s a good chance for people to come here and see this community and we have a tie-in with Hersheypark so some of the teams take advantage and go there.”
Becher said a number of teams are also coming in from PA West, including youth teams from a heated rival in his professional coaching days with the Harrisburg City Islanders: the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
“The Riverhounds have 24 teams coming so it’s nice to see a club like that that has a professional team participating,” Becher said.
Two other tournaments are on the Columbus Day Weekend slate. Western Lehigh United SC is hosting their Fall Fest for the 29th year and will be welcoming close to 200 teams while the Columbus Day Explorer Cup will welcome more than 400 teams in its 12th year.
Countless other Eastern Pennsylvania teams will be traveling to tournaments out of state this weekend since most leagues take a break from the schedule and many schools are off on Monday to allow for a long weekend with travel.
“Columbus Day and Memorial Day are two really big tournament weekends because there’s no league play going on and you have the three-day weekend,” Becher said. "It's a great chance for teams to play in different environments and challenge themselves against different competition."
To view the full list of upcoming Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer-sanctioned tournaments, visit www.epysa.org/tournament-sanctioning/approved-tournaments.
If you're playing in one of the Eastern PA tournaments or traveling out of state this weekend, be sure to bring Flat Keystone with you and share your creative photos.