Men’s and Women’s Soccer Teams Compete at TST for a $1 Million Prize in Cary

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Photo by Kyle Marie McMahon

BY KYLE MARIE McMAHON

The Soccer Tournament (TST) returned to Cary this week for its second annual competition at WakeMed Soccer Park. This open tournament brings together domestic and international teams, from amateur to Champions League clubs, to compete 7-on-7 for a winner-take-all prize of $1 million. 

Forty-eight men’s teams are competing, and for the first time this year, a women’s tournament of eight teams was added to the lineup. Both hometown professional teams, North Carolina Football Club (NCFC) and NC Courage, are taking part.

TST games are played on a smaller field than usual (widthwise rather than full length) with smaller goals to accommodate the reduced team size. (Normally, teams play 11-on-11.) The games are also much shorter than usual, with two 20-minute halves and modified rules, such as rolling substitutes. These changes make tournament games fast-paced, physical games all spectators can enjoy, regardless of their level of soccer knowledge. 

NCFC takes on Villarreal at the WakeMed Soccer Park. Photo by Kyle Marie McMahon.

Every game must end on a goal. This element is the most exciting aspect of tournament games. At the end of the 40 minutes, the game moves into “Target Score Time,” a game concept unique to TST, during which the first team to reach the target score wins. 

The target is set at one plus the highest score at the end of regulation, and every three minutes, a player from each team must exit the pitch—so things can get interesting!

The prize package and the chance to play against other high-level players in such an interesting format means TST draws some of the best teams in the world. Burnley FC, Inter Milan, FC Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund all sent squads. And many of their hometown fans traveled with them. 

Fans of the Italian team Como arrived in a charter bus and disembarked singing songs and waving giant flags—and didn’t stop until their team finished their first game (a win). Some teams were pulled together specifically for TST by legends of the sport, such as Nani and Sergio Agüero, or by celebrities like ESPN’s Pat McAfee and former NFL player J.J. Watt. 

Como-Cagliari fans cheer on their team at the WakeMed Soccer Park. Photo by Kyle Marie McMahon.

Perhaps the biggest draw this year is the Wrexham Red Dragons, the oldest football club in Wales and stars of the Netflix show “Welcome to Wrexham.”

WakeMed offers a perfect venue for TST. Its multiple soccer fields mean there is rarely a break in the action, especially during the group stages. Between games, spectators can get their pictures taken with Manchester City’s Premier League trophy or get autographs at meet and greet events. Food trucks and stalls offer a variety of options, like pizza, barbeque or Filipino noodles, for those who want a bit to eat—and spectators might just run into players doing the same!

The event kicked off on Wednesday with the men’s group stage, a round-robin format, with the top 32 teams advancing to the knockout stage starting Friday afternoon. The women’s group stage started Friday morning and will conclude on Saturday. The semifinals for both groups are on Sunday with the $1 million championship games played Monday evening. Tickets may still be available, but if they sell out, you can still catch all the action on ESPNU/ESPN+.

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