CARY, N.C. (WGHP) — There’s nothing like an athletic event with something huge on the line. Is $1 million huge enough?
A new type of soccer tournament is coming to Cary in June that is unlike any other soccer tournament. It’s designed after a basketball tournament that has become popular quickly. First-place winners in the tournament get $1 million, and the team that comes in second place gets nothing.
It’s called the Soccer Tournament and was put together by Mike Volk and Henry Tambon.
“Henry and I knew each other for over a decade … we actually met each other at college at the University of Virginia. We remained friends after college and then ended up … together in New York City for a couple of years,” Volk said. “We continued to play soccer together throughout our friendship … Henry and I were also big … basketball fans, and we were watching TBT on our couch together, and we kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Man, we should do this for soccer.’”
The TBT Volk refers to is the very popular sister tournament called the Basketball Tournament, and it has attracted dozens of former NBA players over the past decade that it’s been run.
What Volk and Tambon have done is take the small-sided game rather than the traditional bigger field 11 vs. 11 game because they believe the smaller game will appeal to fans beyond those who already love soccer.
“We wanted to call out the most exciting parts of the game which is attacking football. So when you play small-sided, you have more shots. You have more goals. You have more attacking football which generates more eyeballs and more interest from that teetering fan,” Volk said.
The idea has attracted big names like a team from German Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund, Ryan Reynolds’ Welch team, Wrexham, the US National Women’s Team and teams led by former English Premier League stars Clint Dempsey and Cesc Fabregas.
And there is a team from the Triad taking its shot at the big money. They don’t have the big names listed above, but team manager Russell Morgan wasn’t going for that.
“From the beginning, I said whether we win the tournament or not, I wanted us to be the team people wanted to win,” Morgan said.
He grew up in Greensboro and graduated from Northeast Guilford High School before heading off to Morehouse College in Atlanta.
He was a soccer player growing up and noticed there aren’t that many opportunities for players to continue their career at HBCUs like Morehouse or North Carolina A&T State University. So Morgan organized this team to honor all HBCUs and calls it Say Word FC.
“Say Word is just a phrase that kind of comes from my background … and it just applied to what I wanted to bring to this tournament,” Morgan said.
The team includes his son, Giovanni and a few players Giovanni played with or against when Giovanni played at Northern Guilford High School.
For Giovanni, it’s an eye-opening experience.
“It’s surreal at the moment,” he said. “We’re just sitting here day-to-day, making sure we’re prepared, making sure we come with the proper respect for these guys,” and these women. Say Word’s first match is against the US Women’s National Team.
The format is different beyond having fewer players on each side. It also uses a similar tactic to the Basketball Tournament by ensuring every game ends with a scoring play. In the soccer version, teams play two 20-minute halves then they go into what’s called targeted scoring time.
Whatever the score is at the end of the two 20-minute halves, teams have to get to one more than that. So say the score was three to one, in favor of Team A over Team B. Team A only needs to score one more goal to get to four and win the game. Team B would still have a chance, but they would need to score three goals to get to four before Team A does.
“An organized team is going to win this,” said Brandon Miller, who played collegiately at UNC-Wilmington and then in the USL Championship, which is the second highest American pro soccer league just under Major League Soccer, and is a player coach with Say Word FC.
“I know a lot of players who are going to be there. I’ve played against a lot of players who are going to be there. There’s going to be a lot of quality, but I think that our team has some quality as well. There are a lot of uncovered gems throughout the United States, and I think this tournament is going to give you an opportunity to see there are so many untapped markets and so many players that are just hungry for the opportunity … and I think this tournament is going to provide that opportunity.”
The Soccer Tournament runs from June 1 to June 4 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. See more of the local team in this edition of The Buckley Report.