Since its inception in 1980, the Dr Pepper Dallas Cup has cultivated a fertile history of healthy competition, foundational sportsmanship and open cultural exchange. Rich in tradition, the annual tournament has given soccer greats like David Beckham, Raul, Michael Bradley, Javier "Chicharito" Hernández and Wayne Rooney an early taste of international competition.
Sponsored by Dr Pepper since 2005, the invitation-only tournament brings together youth soccer teams from across the globe in what is arguably the biggest international sports event held annually in North Texas. It engages nearly 1,500 international players between ages 12 and 18 in an unforgettable competition steeped in mutual admiration and built on a genuine love of the sport. Every year, several dozen teams and referees from outside the U.S. stay with designated host families, offering unparalleled opportunities to learn about one another's cultures while participating in a uniquely prestigious global tournament.
"The continued support of Dr Pepper has been tremendous and instrumental in helping Dallas Cup achieve its position as one of the premier international youth soccer tournaments in the world," said Dallas Cup Executive Director Andy Swift. "It’s a true partnership in every sense of the word, one that provides important resources which allow our tournament participants to return home with unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that not only include elite-level competition, world-class refereeing and top-notch facilities, but also unique opportunities for cross-cultural education and community involvement."
Cultural communion amid competition
Participating coaches from countries near and far cite the event's legacy as a competitive touchstone and a lesson in cultural respect. Eintracht Frankfurt Academy Director Armin Kraaz noted his young players' excitement over traveling to Dallas, saying, "Almost all players of our U15 are (visiting) for the first time in the US and can't wait to experience the great hospitality of the host families, which they (have) heard about from the generations of Eintracht players before."
"It is a beloved tradition for our club Eintracht Frankfurt to join the Dallas Cup, and we know tradition, as our club was founded 1899," he added.
For FC Dallas Academy Director Luchi Gonzalez, the competition hits close to home in ways both literal and figurative. "This is our hometown tournament, so it holds a special importance. Representing our city against some of the best teams and professional clubs in the world is a responsibility that we don't take lightly and we are excited to once again compete in what is one of the biggest youth tournaments in the world. International competition is a cornerstone of the FC Dallas player development model, and we will prepare to represent our community and our country."
Indeed, the event is a springboard for many to spend their lives on the global stage. Dr Pepper Dallas Cup alumni have gone on to compete in more than 430 FIFA World Cup matches in years past—a connection that shows no sign of slowing. It's even been known to cross over into success in other sports, as well. Perhaps the tournament's most notable alumnus who went on to excel as a pro athlete outside of soccer is Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon. The young Lagos Stars of Nigeria goalkeeper participated in several Dallas Cup tournaments, later immigrated to the U.S. and ultimately earned a place in history as one of the most accomplished and beloved basketball players of all time.
A turning point for talented youth
Olajuwan is one among many former participants who have gone on to pursue university and professional careers in the states. Says Dave Mercer, former program manager of Knowsley Youth—a longstanding tournament participant based near Liverpool, England—"I personally have seen with my own eyes the life-changing impact on so many young men from Knowsley, from those who have either obtained University scholarships in the USA to those (for) whom the whole experience has passed them by but several years later, after growing and maturing ... saying 'what an experience the Dallas Cup was.'"
Mercer has attended the tournament for 27 years running, first as a local borough worker who aided in the development of his local youth soccer team and more recently as Tour Coordinator for the Liverpool Football Club Foundation. He said he's looking forward to seeing the new crop of players on the pitch this year, anxious to test their mettle.
"The excitement of making all the necessary arrangements to get to the Holy Grail, the excitement of seeing our young people arriving in Dallas with eyes wide open full of excitement and fear of the unknown makes the Dallas Cup incredibly special to me and those who journey with me," Mercer said.
Dr Pepper Snapple Group proudly presents the 2017 Dr Pepper Dallas Cup April 9-16, 2017 at an array of venues throughout Dallas, including the Toyota Stadium, Cotton Bowl Stadium, MoneyGram Park and Classic League Soccer Complex at Richland College, with the Crowne Plaza in Addison serving as the event's official headquarters. Expected to pour $17 million into the local economy and bring more than 5,000 visitors to Dallas this spring, this tournament will mark the beverage company's twelfth consecutive year serving as chief sponsor.