ST. GEORGE — While the weather wasn’t exactly ideal, the 7 Elite Academy international tournament brought the world to Utah and Nevada for three days of futbol mayhem.

One of the winning clubs at the 7 Elite Academy international soccer tournament, St. George, Utah, Feb. 2, 2024 | Photo by James Shaw, 7 Elite Academy for the St. George News

Over 400 club soccer teams from Utah and other United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain and Canada took part in the yearly event held Feb. 1-3.

Boys and girls teams from all ages up to 20 years old competed over the weekend and were exposed to the international flavor of the sport.

The venues were the soccer fields at Little Valley, the Sullivan Soccer Complex in Washington City and the Mesquite Soccer Complex in Mesquite, Nevada.

Locally, games were also held at high and middle school fields around St. George. The rain and wind were consistent for all three days but didn’t dampen enthusiasm among the players.

“Yeah, 400 teams, it’s growing year upon year,” 7 Elite Academy Soccer Ambassador Stephen Warnock told St. George News on Friday afternoon at Little Valley.

Warnock is a former Premier League and English national player and is a commentator for NBC Sports.

“It’s a great thing. The soccer is growing over here all the time, it’s getting bigger, it’s getting better,” Warnock said. “And the opportunities are there to put on a great tournament.”

Enthusiasm for the tournament is so strong, he said, that they need even more pitches to accommodate all the games.

And maybe some better weather?

“I mean, this is normal weather for England,” he said.

Former Premier League professional and English national player Stephen Warnock at the 7 Elite Academy international soccer tournament, St. George, Utah, Feb. 2, 2024 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

7 Elite Academy has club teams in Salt Lake City and St. George, in Tanzania, Africa, and in Liverpool, England, Warnock said.

“This year we’ve been able to bring over 50 players from the U.K. across, which is great for the local players in the area to play against players from different backgrounds,” Warnock said.

The tournament provided players with a chance to compete against teams with entirely different styles.

“And it’s great for the great for the English boys to come over and pit themselves against these challenges,” Warnock said.

A lot more happened over the weekend than just the matches on the pitch.

Liverpool FC International Academy coach Chris Owens was on hand to conduct goalkeeping master classes for tournament participants.

There was also a panel discussion on Friday night for the participants to ask questions about the state of soccer and how it can apply to their lives.

Called “Pathways to Progress,” panelists discussed career possibilities in soccer in a question-and-answer session with Warnock, Owens and other professionals in the industry.

“We are going to sit down and take any questions asked of us about how to get into the college system in America, how to go to England and play, what sacrifices it might take to be a professional,” Warnock said. “I think we’ve got a nice panel to be able to achieve that.”

Warnock was pleased with the number of girls teams that participated in the tournament.

“What we try to achieve is vitally important for boys and for girls,” he said. “Arguably the women’s game in America is bigger than the men’s game. The girls absolutely love the soccer, which is great for us to see because that’s a little bit different in England.”

One of his missions as ambassador, Warnock said, is to help fans learn about the nuances of futbol, to get them up to speed with the tactics, the understanding of the game, how it’s played.

“I think our education in England on the side of the soccer is ever slightly ahead, but that’s just because it’s our history,” Warnock said. “It’s our number one sport.”

Warnock has spent the last 25 years coming to America, he said, “but it’s the last sort of four or five years where I’ve noticed a big difference in the culture of local American kids, where they’re now really watching a lot of soccer. They’re playing soccer constantly.”

“I see kids in restaurants with cleats on, which was completely unheard of sort of 10 or 15 years ago,” Warnock said. “There’s been a big shift. We’re starting to see that, which is great.”

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