The energy level was high at the Stony Brook Soccer Complex this weekend for the LI Cup finals. Big crowds lined the fields, and you could tell the excitement was building in both the players, and the parents and fans.
The format of the tournament is unique in several ways. First, the LI Cup is the largest single elimination soccer tournament in the world at ANY level….that’s right, even bigger than the World Cup. Nearly 1,500 teams started out in tournament play back in March, which leads us to our second unique point. The fact that the tournament lasts the entire Spring season creates a drama and sense of excitement that the participating families feel, especially as the finals draw closer.
“What’s really nice is that it’s spread out,” said Kelly Fallon of Islip, whose daughter Emily is a member of the U15 East Islip Angles that won their second LI Cup Final on Saturday. “It’s not just one weekend. It creates a goal for them and gives them something to work towards, something to look forward to.”
Over the long term, it also instills many of the goals the league set forth decades ago for its’ young athletes.
“The kids seem to enjoy it very much and events like this are so memorable for them. It’s been a great part of their lives,” said fellow East Islip parent Jeanine Lavery, whose daughter Emma also plays for the Angels. “These kinds of experiences build character and teach sportsmanship. It’s been a great foundation for them to be a part of.”
For the Angels, their first LI Cup title came when the girls were in 6th grade, and the team has played for Coach Mike Celentano. That stability and relationship built with their coach helps build a strong bond amongst the girls as well according to Emily.
“The relationship that all the girls have was key for us,” she explained. “We have a really close team and I think we really play for each other. We also practiced really hard for this. We practiced four times this week!”
“Our team has been together a long time,” added Emma. “We know how to play together, and when we start strong we usually play well. That’s what happened to us in this tournament.”
Strong play was a theme with many of the players we talked to this weekend. Most feel that the “lose and you’re out” mentality brings out the best in all the players.
“I love the format of the tournament, having to win each game to continue on,” said Alex Van Patten, whose Syosset Strikers team won a championship in the U16 bracket. “I think everyone plays better because they know if they don’t, the games end. No one wants the tournament to end.”