The 7 Elite Academy International Tournament is set to smash all expectations when the action gets under way in Washington City and Saint George today.
The event has already broken records after 200 teams signed up to take part, forcing organizers to close online registration facilities two weeks early.
That total beat the 2020 tournament number of 147 teams, which in itself was a sharp increase on the previous event.
Teams in the 2002 to 2012 brackets will battle it out for honours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, alongside a Pre-Academy Jamboree for players in the 2013 to 2016 groups.
Wayne Scholes, Chairman of 7 Elite Academy, is looking forward to watching the action unfold at venues across the Saint George and Washington City region
He said: “This tournament is a fantastic opportunity for the Utah youth soccer community to enjoy three days of competitive soccer and showcase the best our game has to offer.
“The standard of teams this year is exceptionally high and the level of competition is going to be better than ever before.
“The team at 7 Elite Academy has worked hard to create a program of games, high-quality officials and events that will go far beyond anyone’s expectations.
“We have plans to work with Saint George and Washington Cities to offer world-class opportunities for youth soccer in the region. This is just the start of that process.
“Over the next year, we will transform facilities for players - and our tournament, going forward, will be the jewel in the crown of those plans.”
Professional officials from across the United States will take charge of the action, including Grade 5 referees, the Female Referee of the Year in Arizona and several academy pool candidates.
Penalty shoot-outs, meanwhile, will ramp up the tension at the end of games with an extra point up for grabs.
Safety remains a priority for organizers and the tournament will be held in a Covid-secure environment.
Daren Woolstenhulme, CEO at 7 Elite Academy, said: “We thought long and hard about Covid protocols for this year’s tournament, and devised a strategy that puts safety at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
“We will have social distancing signs throughout all venues and staff will be encouraged to make sure they are followed at all times.
“There will be hand sanitizer stations available for everyone, and masks will be used and encouraged where appropriate.
“We want all staff, players, coaches and everyone else who attends our tournament to feel as safe as possible.”
Nick Nield, Tournament Director, added: “We are so grateful to the teams, players and their families who have made this year’s 7 Elite Academy International Tournament a record-breaking event.
“Our team of staff has faced many challenges over the last twelve months, but I am proud of every single person who has worked so hard on this tournament.
“Local authorities in Saint George and Washington have also been incredibly supportive and offered us access to high-quality field across the region.
“The standard of competition this weekend will be higher than anything we’ve seen before and that can only be a positive thing for the players.
“It is exciting to think that we now have the challenge of making this tournament even more exciting in the future. Our team will start work on the 2022 event as soon as this event finishes.”