When the Reston Socceer Association announced its first soccer festival two years ago, 56 teams entered. This year the association turned down twice as many as it accepted for the festival's third edition, which has 120 participating teams.
"Now we are trying to get only the very best teams available," said Jim Falk, a tournament directors. "But we also want a good geographical dispersion, so we will take a weather team if it is the only one from its area that applies."
This year's festival includes teams from Massapequa, N.Y.; Williamsburg, Va.: Centerville, Ohio: Ontario, and Dublin, as well as dozens of area youth boys and girls teams.
"I know of teams that wouldn't come because there is no trophy to be won," said London City (Ontario) Coach Don Reid. "But I think it's a good thing for the boys on the term - a chance to wrap up the season with a nice trip."
The hournament, which began Friday and winds up today, features a round-robin format that has each team playing four games. In the oldest group, 17- and 18-year-olds, three games are played, with the winning team earning a trophy.
Reid continued, "I feel this is more of an exchange program. There is a lot of good will be had since the visiting players stay at the homes of local players. That gives the foreign players a chance to learn something about the United States and its way of life."
Reid, who has brought London City teams to the tournament all three year, first heard about the festival through a Reston coach who took a team to Canada a few years ago.
Several nearby virginia teams had traveled to other cities for tournaments - an experience that gave some Reston coaches, parents of players and businessman the idea of conducting a tournament here.
youth soccer is booming in the Northern Virginia area: 52 nearby Virginia teams are competing at Reston, 50-plus squads are entered in the Arlington Thanksgiving Tournament taking place at the same time.
"The Irish teams that are here expresed surprise at how the American parents support their kids by coming to the game," said Falk, who himself has two sons in the festival. "The Canadians are similary family-oriental, although for them soccer comes second to hockey."
In the Reston area, Falk said, youth soccer participants registered with the various leagues outnumber youth football players 10 to 1.
"Whether that means that the pre soccer teams are going to make a buck. I don't know," Falk said. "Some people claim that these kids are the future paying customers at professional games, but I'll have to wait and see."
Northern Virginia teams play about 10 league games in the regular season, but tournaments can add as many as 20 games to the league schedule. Players practice twice a week for two hours per session and play once or twice each week.
"The kids love it, but to the parents, it seems like a lot of games," Falk said.
But the ever-watchful parents seem to be catching on the game - they cruise the sideline, following the action and making comments like the one overheard near the end of a game that already had been decided: "They're not playing so much as moving around a lot so they won't freeze to death."
The practice hours apparently have paid off for the players, according to Reid. Assessing the changes in the American brand of youth soccer he has observed, Reids said. "The passes are crisper and the players seem to move on breaks better.
Gary Clift, a member of the '62 London City team for 16-year-olds born in that year, concurred. "There is a lost of improvement from last year. The Americans control the ball better. I guess it's obvious, because the same team we tied with last year (Annandale Spartans) whipped us pretty well this time (3-0)."
Clift, who played in Virginia last year for the first time, related what he had heard about playing at Reston from teammates who were veterans of the tournaments:
"They said that you got to stay at some really fabulous homes. Plus, the weather here was so much better. Back home, it is snowing this time of year."
Clift used his earings as a part-time cook to pay for the bus trip from Ontario. Several nearby restaurants offer cut-rate meals to the festival participants and a local motel also cuts its prices for those few players who don't stay ("billet") at other players' homes.
"We got sponsorship from local business this year, and I want to tell you it sure helped," Falks said. The festival has a program for sale that contains several ads from local businesses.
Games are played at local junior high school fields and in parks in the Reston and Herndon areas.
The festival also offers college coaches an easy opportunity to scout prospective recruits: 28 college coaches watched the Reston games this weekend. Washington Diplomat Caoch Gordon Bradley also was on hand.