TAMPA - When Black Watch Soccer Club founded its Labor Day tournament 11 years ago, it found an open date on the calendar and teams eager for competition at the beginning of the club football season. Over the years it grew, from 60 clubs to 80 to between 130 and 140 clubs for the past few years.
'We've been doing it for 11 years,' said Black Watch director of coaching Jim DiNobile, 'and we've been trying to provide a good tournament that features good organization, good officiating, good facilities and just try to do our best and hopefully have a good tournament and attract good teams.'
But recently, the specter of Disney has appeared. Disney's Soccer Showcase, held at the end of December, has quickly become one of the top tournaments in the country. Due to demand for places at the tournament, Disney has had a qualifying tournament since 2003 on the same weekend as Black Watch's tournament.
Black Watch has been able to maintain entry numbers, with 130 teams from across the state competing this weekend over 16 tournaments. But comparing the entry lists of the Black Watch tournament and the Disney qualifier, the disparity of quality is clear. Most Bay area clubs are sending their top teams to Disney, with fewer remaining in Tampa.
'It's really based on the level of the tournament and the level of the competition,' HCU general manager Eric Simms said. 'The first thing, obviously, with Disney is we have to go where the college coaches are going to be, especially for our older age groups, so in order to get into the showcase in December, we have to show well at the qualifier.'
Disney's Soccer Showcase has not only impacted Black Watch's tournament, but also the Tampa Bay Sun Bowl. In the past, the Sun Bowl was one of the top Christmas tournaments in the country, with teams coming from around the country. Now, Disney holds that distinction.
RSL Florida is sending 10 teams to Disney next weekend to try to qualify for December, with two in Tampa competing in age groups Disney doesn't offer. RSL director of coaching Adrian Bush says teams with good credentials to get into the main draw without qualifying are almost forced to go to fight for a spot.
'Even if you're a state champion, it doesn't guarantee that you're going to get into Disney in December,' Bush said. 'Teams are almost forced to go to the qualifier in hopes of gaining one of those spots.'
DiNobile acknowledges the impact Disney has had, also noting the effect it has had on the Sun Bowl, but he believes there is a place for both tournaments this weekend.
'Disney has had an effect on the tournament scene,' DiNobile said. 'Can we still have a good competitive tournament at the beginning of the year that serves the purposes of teams? I think we're doing that.'