FC Dallas youth return to defend Copa ESPN title

FC Dallas will have the opportunity to defend an international crown this weekend in Carrollton.

No, Frisco’s finest professional footballers did not win any kind of international tournament, it’s the club’s youth program that returns to McInnish Soccer Complex as reigning U14 bracket champions in ESPN Dallas' Copa ESPN.

Last year, FC Dallas’ 97 Blue squad, under the technical direction of Jessie Suarez, knocked off the 2010 champion Inocentes Jr. to earn the side an all-expenses paid trip to Orlando, Fla., to participate in the Disney Cup International. The youth squad took full advantage of the trip, not only to explore the Magic Kingdom, but winning the U14 cup.

“The [Copa ESPN] tournament was a great tournament,” Suarez said. “It wasn’t easy to win, but the advantages we got out of it was a chance to prepare for our state cup.”

This year, two FC Dallas teams – 98 Premier and 99B Central - are a part of the 16-team field vying for the U14 crown and trip to Florida.

The fourth installment of the Copa ESPN tournament will feature 76 youth teams in divisions from U8 to high school eighteen year olds over three days, having grown from the two-day, 32-team inaugural tournament in 2009.

“The idea of Copa ESPN is to do what no other tournament does and that is to invite teams from clubs, academies and recreational leagues and to expose players and leagues to each other that otherwise would never have the opportunity to compete,” ESPN Dallas marketing and promotions manager and tournament director Roger “Spin” Sosa said.

What began as the brainchild of ESPN Deportes 1540 AM has spread across all three of ESPN Dallas’ platforms, now including ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM and ESPNDallas.com. All three will have live coverage and broadcasts from the tournament throughout the weekend.

Many of last year’s division champions return this season, having earned an automatic invitation from their success in 2011, but there is even more to play for in 2012. Scouts from the U15 Mexico national team, remaining in North Texas in the wake of the Dallas Cup, will be in attendance throughout the weekend to offer tryout invitations to select players.

Four teams continue their club campaign at Copa ESPN coming off of appearances in the Dallas Cup last weekend, including Irving Elite and Dallas Tigres in the U16 bracket as well as several of the players playing with the FC Dallas squads.

“We try and select events that allow the kids to grow,” said Chris Hayden, vice president of FC Dallas youth. “Obviously going [to Copa ESPN] last year was beneficial to that group of players and their development.”

In addition to FC Dallas, Dallas Texans, Andromeda, Solar and TFC are among the area’s top programs participating in Copa ESPN.

Benefits of the tournament go beyond the in-game experience. Perks for winning some of the brackets, like the trip to Florida for the U14 champion and the chance for the U16 champion to play a friendly at FC Dallas Stadium after an FC Dallas game, really make this tournament fun for the participants.

“We entered to give our kids a great opportunity to play and hopefully win the tournament and get a trip to Disney,” FC Dallas 98 Premier manager Gabby Gentile said.

Click here for more information on Copa ESPN 2012, including a schedule of matches for every age division.