Monday, January 19, 2015

Soccer tournament review: Temecula Valley Shootout

The Temecula Valley of California, located about two hours southeast of Los Angeles, is a nice place to hold a youth soccer tournament in January. Unlike the roasting temperatures of summer, January in Temecula features coolish mornings and comfortably warm afternoons.

Even if you have no interest in soccer, Temecula is a nice spot for a weekend getaway, with plenty of dining options, wine tours and a fun Old Town shopping area dressed up in faux-Western motif.

These lures could be why the 2015 Temecula Valley Shootout soccer tournament attracted an ample 109 teams from around Southern California for two days of competition.
Action in the Temecula Valley Shootout

Unfortunately, popularity does not necessarily make a great soccer tournament. In fact, in this case, it may have worked against it. The 2015 Temecula Valley Shootout was too big, had too many venues and ended with too many champions.

The best tournaments are located at a single site with multiple fields, offering a festive atmosphere amid non-stop soccer action. Kids and parents can hang out all day, meet up with friends from different teams and see various levels of soccer.

If a tournament can't be fit into a single site, having two or three sites is a decent second option.  But the Temecula Valley Shootout went far in the other direction  it was spread across 18 different venues, many of them just single fields.

Some teams had games at as many as three different venues, so parents spent much of the weekend driving from place to place. To many participants, the Shootout seemed less like a tournament and more like a series of disconnected individual games.

To be fair, the tournament had plenty of positives. Schedules were nicely posted a week ahead of time so parents could plan. The volunteers I spoke to were all friendly. Those teams that had the pleasure of playing at Birdsall Park had it best that facility features four beautiful synthetic turf fields in a wonderful setting. I liked that games were full-length (for the age group).

Still, there were many signs that the tournament was just too unwieldy. Almost all the age divisions were split into two completely separate "flights"   resulting in two champions in each division. This just doesn't make sense.

 "Yay, we're the U10 girls champions of the Temecula Valley Shootout!" says one team.

 "No," says another team. "We're  the U10 girls champions of the Temecula Valley Shootout."

There were too many four-team flights where, after a complete round-robin, the final was simply a rematch featuring the 1st and 2nd place teams. That's weak the championship should feature a new challenge for teams that have earned it. Strangely, three age divisions that featured two four-team flights did not do the obvious: Have the winner of each flight play off for the championship.

Weirdest of all was that one flight in U11 boys had only three teams (while the other flight had six).  In the three-team flight, the team that beat the two others on Saturday had to wait all day Sunday before playing the winner of a rematch of the other two for the "championship."

Tournament organizers need to create a structure to create a single champion for each division, perhaps by limiting the size of the field.

One other oddity. Players on each championship team received medals.That's nice. But curiously, the medals do not mention the tournament name anywhere. All they say is "Temecula Valley Hawks," the team hosting the tournament.

(Please support this blog by clicking on an ad.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book review: "No Picnic on Mount Kenya"

The story of "No Picnic on Mount Kenya" can be summarized pretty quickly. Three Italians, held as prisoners of war in Africa during World War II, escape their camp solely to try to climb the highest peak in Kenya. After the climb, they return to camp.

That simple summary, however, masks the details. And it is the details of this true story that bring it alive.

By 1943, Felice Benuzzi and his fellow Italians had been POWs of the British for some two years and they were bored out of their minds (true, if boredom is  your biggest problem as a prisoner of war, consider yourself lucky).

Benuzzi, who had climbed in the Alps before the war, cast his eyes on the distant Mount Kenya and its towering peak named Batian, and conjured up a crazy idea: Go climb it.

"Standing in the ranks at morning roll-call and seeing Batian beckoning me with its shimmering glaciers, I sometimes felt like running away on the spot, to seek and to meet adventure halfway," Benuzzi writes.

Recruiting two others to come with him wasn't easy because you can't exactly broadcast in a POW camp that you're planning to escape. Possible partners were scouted, secretive meetings arranged and whispered plans exchanged. The best-laid plans went awry. One partner was abruptly transferred to another camp shortly before the escape; Benuzzi had to scramble for  replacement.

Climbing equipment isn't exactly commonly available in a POW camp, so the men ingeniously made their own out of scraps of metal, strips of cloth, and random nails. Climbing guidebooks and Internet access weren't easily found either, so the prisoners had get bits and pieces of information about their intended climb from brief mentions in old magazines, and were delighted to find a simple drawing of the mountain on a tin of meat.

In the telling, Benuzzi maintains an understated sense of humor and an eye for detail. On the mountain he describes an approaching current of mist: "Fragments of cloud would reach the rock at our feet only burst and dissolve like a pricked soap bubble."

In all, the escape, climb and return took 18 days. They may be the only POWs in history to sneak back into a prison camp.

Benuzzi describes each step carefully you'll feel like you're along for the trip but for my money, he goes into more detail than is necessary. You may find, as I did, that you can skim through some parts.

Still, it is overall an enjoyable journey and well-told account. I'm glad they got bored.

 (Please support this blog by clicking on an ad, or by donating via the Paypal button below.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Soccer tournament review: Mayors Cup in Long Beach

Compared to most youth soccer tournaments, the 2015 Mayors Cup in Long Beach, California, was relatively low-key.

While many tournaments are crammed with so many teams that shivering kids and parents have to show up at 7 a.m. Saturday to check in for 8 a.m. games, the first kickoff at the Mayors Cup was at the more reasonable hour of 9:00.

Other tournaments, pressed to fit everything in, shorten games and rush on the next set of teams the minute the final whistle blows for the previous match. Not the Mayors Cup. Games were full length (for the age group) and there was a comfortable 15 minutes between matches.

Also good: The Heartwell Park fields were not crammed together like at some competitions. There was ample elbow room.

Even parking was a bit less troublesome at the Mayors Cup than at most tournaments. You may not have been able to park exactly close to your field
in the world of soccer tournaments, that's as elusive as the lost island of Atlantis but there were enough spots within a reasonable distance.

Still, future participants should be warned: Be sure to read the parking signs. Some people who didn't got tickets.

The biggest weakness in the Mayors Cup (no apostrophe in the name; go figure) was the often unbalanced competition. As an "open" tournament, the Mayors Cup accepts all teams whether highly selective academy programs or a local recreational team and the differences showed.

One team pounded its opponents, 10-0, 9-1, 15-0, 7-0. There were other games that ended 12-0 and 10-0. One team was outscored by a cumulative 26-0.

Not all games were lopsided. Particularly at older ages, the competition was more balanced. Still, if you're entering this tournament be advised that you could be facing any level of opponent.

One last positive note: The reffing (that I saw, anyway) was pretty good. Did I disagree with a call or two? Sure. But generally the refs seemed to get it right.

 (Please support this blog by clicking on an ad, or by donating via the Paypal button below.)