TST will be full of soccer legends and Hollywood headliners

When the organizers of The Basketball Tournament — the wildly successful, $1 million winner-take-all competition — announced in October that they were expanding to soccer, they were optimistic the concept would have broad, even global, interest. With less than a month before first The Soccer Tournament will be hosted in Cary, North Carolina, though, it would have been hard to image the type of talent that would take part in Year 1.

Along with several prominent American players — including Landon Donovan, Jimmy Conrad, Jermaine Jones and other United States men’s national team veterans — the tournament has attracted players with international and World Cup experience from all over the world. It’s not just retired players, either. Cesc Fabregas, the 2010 World Cup winner with Spain and one of the best midfielders of his generation, is coming with his current team — Italian side Como 1907, which competes in Serie B — with the intent of going for the $1 million prize.

“It’s really exciting for us because it’s obviously the first time that we go as a club to the United States to compete,” Fabregas told ESPN. “And we’re trying to bring the best team we can to do well and try to win because obviously that’s always the final objective.”

Fabregas isn’t the only World Cup winner who will take part. Retired goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller, a member of Germany‘s 2014 World Cup, will represent Borussia Dortmund alongside a team of former BVB players and other club representatives.

Then there’s the US Women, which has several former U.S. women’s national team players with World Cup winners and Olympic goal medals in their trophy cases.

Two Premier League clubs will be there — West Ham United and Wolverhampton Wanderers — along with pro clubs from Mexico (Necaxa), Israel (Hapoel Tel Aviv) and lower tiers of the English football pyramid (Wrexham and Hashtag United). There will be college alumni teams (Indiana and Duke) and others that were formed specifically for TST.

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Roster building and preparation varies significantly as this is all unplowed ground for TST’s first iteration.

Here is some more about what to expect from June 1-4.

How were the teams selected?

When TST was announced in October, an initial wave of slots were award to teams that responded quickly. At the time, organizers were unsure of the caliber of teams that would apply to get in. Once it was clear there was significant interest, slots were issued more deliberately to a diverse group of teams that either had broad appeal or could field high-level talent — and oftentimes both.

How were the teams put together?

This is where it starts to get interesting. Most teams have one person as the primary organizer — the general manager, if you will — or in many cases the responsibility is shared between a few people. The processes to fill a roster have varied greatly. Former pros — the likes of Mike Magee, Jimmy Conrad, Clint Dempsey, Heather O’Reilly, A.J. DeLaGarza — tapped into their address books, recruiting former teammates, teammates of those teammates, friends of friends … that sort of thing.

The process for the pro clubs was similar. Take Dortmund and West Ham, for example. This isn’t a case in which they’re sending first-team players. It’ll be mostly retired players who played for the club or have some other connection (academy players, coaches, etc.). Como could be the exception.

How is the tournament structured?

World Cup style: 32 teams, eight groups of four. The round-robin group stage is followed by the knockout rounds. Only the winning team will collect any prize money: the entire $1 million.

What are the rules of the games?

Each team fields seven players, including the goalkeeper. Field dimensions will be, at most, 65 yards in length and 45 yards in width, and matches will be played with 18.5-by-6.5-foot goals.

Similar to the “Elam Ending” employed in TBT, each game will finish with what TST calls “Target Score Time.” After two 20-minute halves are played, an untimed period begins to determine a winner by reaching a target score, which will be one goal more than whatever the team with the lead had at the end of regulation. There can be no draws. No offside. Kick-ins instead of throw-ins. There is more, but those are the basics.

What are the groups?

The full list of teams and groups is listed below, but the full rosters have yet to be released. Several well-known players are committed and will be unveiled in the coming weeks, and each team gets three mystery players they don’t have to announce until just before the tournament begins. Each group carries some appeal, but groups B and G look particularly difficult.

Group A

Borussia Dortmund: A mixture of retired club legends, academy players and other club representatives will play for the German giants, including Weidenfeller, who won two Bundesliga titles and was a World Cup champion with Germany in 2014. The team will also feature Dede — who made more than 300 appearances for BVB and a single cap for Brazil — and American social media influencer Noah Beck, a former college soccer player.

Hoosier Sevens: A team of made up mostly of former Indiana University players, many of whom played on the 2012 NCAA national championship team. Twice-capped USMNT forward Josh Gatt is the most accomplished player on the roster, which has several ex-pros with MLS, USL and other experience.

Kingdom FC: Brothers Paulie and Cody Calafiore, known mostly from their appearances on several reality television shows, built a roster of players with college experience and some ex-pros. Paulie had a brief spell with the Colorado Rapids and Kyle Parker was drafted by the Columbus Crew.

Newtown Pride FC: Based in Sandy Hook, Conn., Newtown won the National Amateur Cup in 2019 and will field a team with college and low-level pro experience.

Group B

Blade & Grass: The team will feature several players with Premier League and international experience, including former USMNT players Geoff Cameron and Brek Shea. Longtime Leicester City and Watford player Jordan Stewart, who finished his career in the United States with the San Jose Earthquakes and Phoenix Rising, is also on the roster. Other prominent names will be announced in the coming weeks.

DMV Diplomats: A team that started with one guy from the Washington D.C./Maryland area, the DMV Diplomats have since grown to include players with international experience from all over the world. Mark Gonzalez and Jose Pedro Fuenzalida both appeared on World Cup rosters for Chile (Gonzalez scored in a 1-0 win against Switzerland at South Africa 2010), while Miroslav Stoch went to the 2010 World Cup with Slovakia at 20 years old.

Villita FC: A deep roster of players with professional experience in MLS and Liga MX, including active pros in indoor and futsal.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: The Premier League side is building a team that combines former club players, academy players and others through a tryout process. Those names will be rolled out in the coming weeks.

Group C

Club Necaxa: The Mexican side will be bringing several former Necaxa players, several of whom played for multiple Liga MX teams. At 47 years old, former Mexico international Paulo Chavez is on the team.

Hapoel Tel Aviv: A mix of club legends and academy players will represent one of Israel’s biggest professional clubs in North Carolina.

SLC FC: Hailing from Canada, the bulk of SLC’s roster has experience in MLS, USL, NASL, Canadian Premier League and college soccer. Chris Mannella has three caps for Canada.

Virginia Dream: One of the youngest teams in the tournament and one that will also enter the NPSL this season, Virginia Dream is run — and owned — by Lucas Mendes, the 2015-16 Gatorade National High School Soccer Player of the Year. The team is comprised mostly of former college players.

Group D

Culture by Mo Ali FC: A squad put together by online content creator and soccer trainer Mo Ali Heydarpour. Former LA Galaxy player Leonardo is the roster headliner so far.

Dallas United: A potentially dangerous team because of their youth and ability train together in the Dallas area, Dallas United will feature multiple players who came through the FC Dallas academy, played in college and in low levels of professional soccer.

Far East United: A team with professional and international (Indonesia, Philippines, Guam) experience all over the world, Far East United is led by American-born Philippines international Anton Del Rosario. Attacker Stephan Schrock has Bundesliga experience.

West Ham United: The Premier League team has already announced former players Matt Jarvis, Carlton Cole, Marlon Harewood, Zavon Hines and Jimmy Walker would represent the Hammers. The club said it plans to send an “All-Star team.”

Group E

Como 1907: At the conclusion of the Serie B season in Italy, Como 1907 will send a competitive team to North Carolina that will be led by Febregas in a player/coach role. Fabregas has won several trophies in his storied career with Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea and the Spanish national team, including Euro 2008 and 2012, the World Cup in 2010, the Club World Cup, La Liga, the Premier League and the FA Cup.

Say Word FC: A decisive underdog in a group with star power, Say Word FC plans to honor North Carolina and Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the country. The roster features players with college and low-level pro experience.

US Women: Coached by global icons Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers, O’Reilly put together a team full of USWNT veterans from multiple generations. The team has strong ties to the University of North Carolina and with players like O’Reilly, Cat Whitehill, Lori Chalupny, Lori Lindsey and 51-year-old Kristine Lilly, the roster is an experienced group of World Cup and Olympic champions.

Wrexham Red Dragons: Fresh off earning promotion to the English Football League, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s Welsh club will begin its United States summer adventure at TST. David Jones will serve as player/coach and the team will announce the rest of its roster this month.

Group F

Conrad & Beasley UTD: USMNT veterans Conrad and DeMarcus Beasley joined forces to put together a solid squad with lots of MLS experience. Among the notable names are former Canadian international Dwayne De Rosario, longtime MLS forward Adam Jahn and former FC Dallas midfielder Zach Loyd, who was capped three times by the USMNT.

Gracie FC: Known globally in the mixed martial arts world, the Gracie family is leaning into its Brazilian roots with several former Brazilian pros and experienced futsal players.

Hashtag United: One of the original two teams to lock in a spot in the TST field, Hashtag won the Isthmian League North Division in England in the 2022-23 season to earn promotion to the seventh tier of the English football pyramid. Joining the team in Cary is World Panna champion Jack Downer, whose dribbling skills have turned him into a YouTube sensation.

Nati SC: Made up predominantly of players who helped form FC Cincinnati‘s earliest teams in USL, the team has players with MLS experience (Andrew Wiedeman, Jimmy McLaughlin, Omar Cummings) and will also include former NFL receiver — and noted soccer fan — Chad Johnson.

Group G

Jackson TN Boom: A sister team of Jackson TN Underdawgs, which compete in The Basketball Tournament, Jackson TN Boom is a younger team with several players with low-level pro experience, along with former Peru international Reimond Manco.

Sneaky Fox FC: Former MLS MVP Magee put together one of the most accomplished rosters in the tournament, featuring several former USMNT and MLS players, including Donovan, Nick Rimando, Brad Evans and Jelle Van Damme. The team has professional indoor players, who should be able adapt easily to the 7×7 format.

Team Dempsey: USMNT legend Dempsey only plans to coach, but he recruited former USMNT players Jones and Eddie Johnson to his squad, along with former El Salvador international Arturo Alvarez among other former pros. Dempsey also held tryouts and will carry some players from that process.

Zala FFF: Another team loaded with former pros, Zala FFF was organized by longtime MLS playerDeLaGarza and features former USMNT player Lee Nguyen. Zala also boasts several players with high-level futsal experience, that should translate well to TST.

Group H

Charlotte FC: The lone MLS team represented in the competition, Charlotte plans to honor the memory of Anton Walkes, who died in boating accident in January. None of the roster has been announced yet.

Duke Alumni: A group of former Duke men’s soccer players that will be coached by the Blue Devils current and longtime head coach John Kerr. Several players went on to play in USL.

NCFC: Playing in their home stadium in Cary, NCFC will feature former players of the USL club.

Raleigh Rebels: The Raleigh Rebels have previously won two championships on Omega Ball — as seen on ESPN The Ocho — and feature several players with college and experience in USL.