US Women, a team of former United States women’s national team players set to compete at The Soccer Tournament — an inaugural $1 million, winner-take-all 7-on-7 competition in June — will be coached by some of the sport’s all-time greats.
National Soccer Hall of Famers Mia Hamm, Carla Overbeck and Michelle Akers are among the staff that will lead the team organized by longtime national team player Heather O’Reilly, who will play.
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“Soccer is this incredible draw for all of us, I think to be together, to connect, to empower people, and to just enjoy this beautiful game,” O’Reilly said. “I feel like this is right out of ‘Field of Dreams.’ ‘If you build it, they will come.’ And it’s just been really special how people have come together.”
TBT Enterprises has run a successful basketball version — The Basketball Tournament — for about a decade, seeing it grow from a 32-team event with a $500,000 prize to a 64-team field playing for $1 million.
When O’Reilly first read in October that TBT was expanding into soccer, she was immediately intrigued by the concept.
“Right away, without knowing much about it, I got a team slot without really putting much thought into who was going to be on my team,” O’Reilly said. “I just knew that I wanted a team and I wanted a chance to win and a chance to be part of it.”
For a couple of weeks, O’Reilly said she sat on it, thinking about how to build a roster. She floated the idea of having tryouts before settling on the obvious choice: get the band back together.
O’Reilly broke through with the USWNT at 17 years old in 2002 and was capped 231 times over the next 15 years. Many of those teammates remain close friends.
“It was just essentially blasting out an email and explaining [TST],” O’Reilly said. “First of all, I had to say, ‘Please just read to the bottom and don’t think this is one of my crazy ideas. This is a real thing.’ I usually have some crazy idea, so a lot of people sometimes are unsure of how serious to take something that I’m suggesting.”
The response was overwhelmingly positive. Former national team players Cat Whitehill, Lori Chalupny and Lori Lindsay have been named to the roster, with others set to be revealed in the coming weeks.
US Women will be the only all-women’s team in the tournament, although there are expected to be women playing on other rosters. With Hamm, Overbeck and Akers on the sideline, along with Wendy Palladino, the team will be coached by some of the sport’s most accomplished women, boasting a combined seven women’s World Cup titles, three Olympic gold medals and over 600 national team caps.
Preparing for the tournament will be a logistical challenge. O’Reilly said she expects the team to have only one pre-tournament practice and a pasta party at her house the night before play begins.
“It will have to be relying on the fabric that’s deep, deep, deep within us, which is our competitive nature,” she said.
Several other teams in the field will feature active professional players from all over the world, along with other big-name international and domestic players.
U.S. soccer legend Clint Dempsey is fielding a team that will feature retired U.S. men’s players Jermaine Jones and Eddie Johnson. A team run by former MLS MVP Mike Magee will field Landon Donovan, Nick Rimando, Brad Evans and Jay DeMerit, among several others. Conrad & Beasley United — organized by former USMNT players Jimmy Conrad and DaMarcus Beasley — will also field a team of multiple notable players.
Internationally, teams representing Borussia Dortmund, Wrexham AFC, Wolverhampton and Club Necaxa are also in the field.
The tournament will employ a format similar to the World Cup: 32 teams in eight groups of four with three group matches per team, then a 16-team, single-elimination knockout phase. The maximum field dimensions will be 65 yards in length and 45 yards in width, and matches will be played with 18.5-by-6.5-foot goals.
The event will take place from June 1-4 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.