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City, soccer complex get rave reviews


Mississippi Soccer Association State Technical Director of Coaching Dr. Terry Eguaoje talks to players, parents and coaches Sunday while handing out awards to the Oxford Under-14 boys team, which beat the Starkville Soccer Association in the championship match of the Presidents Cup at the downtown Columbus Soccer Complex.

Mississippi Soccer Association State Technical Director of Coaching Dr. Terry Eguaoje talks to players, parents and coaches Sunday while handing out awards to the Oxford Under-14 boys team, which beat the Starkville Soccer Association in the championship match of the Presidents Cup at the downtown Columbus Soccer Complex.
Photo by: Adam Minichino/Dispatch Staff



Adam Minichino



"Brilliant." "Beautiful." "Proud." 


Those were just some of the words used to describe the performance of the city of Columbus this past weekend in its first time as host of the state of Mississippi's blockbuster soccer event. 


After more than a year of preparations for the annual Presidents Cup, a Division II youth tournament, the city of Columbus showed it was up to the challenge and aced its debut, according to two of the most influential people in the Mississippi Soccer Association, the state's governing body. 


"I would say absolutely brilliant," said Dr. Terry Eguaoje, the state technical director of coaching for MSA. "From the soccer fields to the restrooms, it is amazing. I went in there and you couldn't tell we have been using it for two days. I have been to tournaments where in the first five hours you could barely get in it."  


Eguaoje and MSA President Doug Kitchens were on hand this past weekend to help oversee the tournament and to make sure the city of Columbus and its $5 million downtown soccer complex, which was completed in the fall of 2012, lived up to its end of the bargain. 


Eguaoje's comments showed just how critical an eye the MSA had on Columbus and how it pays attention to all of the details when it rates a city's job handling events. He said the city and everyone involved with the tournament should be praised because everything was "very impressive." 


Eguaoje spent most of Sunday recognizing the champions and runners-up with medals. On Saturday, he complimented the city for erecting a platform in front of one of the showcase fields in the center of the downtown complex. On Sunday, he thanked the coaches, players, and parents for their participation and used that platform to thank Columbus for making it a successful weekend. 


Later Sunday, Eguaoje pointed out a worker who was picking up trash outside the bathroom as he talked about Columbus' ability to address all of the things associated with running a great tournament. Eguaoje said he, Kitchens, and other MSA staff members kept a mental checklist of items that impressed them or needed to be improved. He said he hadn't received any complaints and that he and his organization would help spread the word about the success Columbus had handling the event. 


"I talked to (Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority Executive Director) Roger (Short) and (Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director) Nancy (Carpenter) this morning (Sunday) and told them they were very proud of what they have done," Kitchens said. "Our only concern coming up here was the weather. It is always the weather. I don't care where you go. The weather has cooperated and the facilities are just beautiful." 




What's next? 


Kitchens said the city of Columbus did a great job preparing for the tournament and then followed up and addressed all of the concerns raised by the MSA. Even though bids for the organization's tournaments in 2016 won't be handed out until early in 2015, Kitchens said with confidence that the MSA will be coming back to Columbus to hold tournaments.  


Columbus next will play host to the Coaches Cup in October 2015. The city served as host to that tournament last year. Even though the city of Columbus did a good job playing host to the Coaches Cup, a smaller tournament than the Presidents Cup, Eguaoje and Kitchens acknowledged that the MSA wanted to see how it performed at a bigger event to gauge its readiness to play host to other events. Both men came away impressed with what they saw from a wide range of areas, including the lighting on the fields to the quality of the fields to the abundance of parking. 


"There is a first time for everything, and this is their first time having a tournament this big," Kitchens said. "They hosted the Coaches Cup in October. It is a small tournament -- maybe 35 teams -- and did a great job. We knew coming up here this was going to be their test. We come in and bring the people who run the tournament, but if you don't have the infrastructure like Columbus has provided this weekend -- like all of the volunteers and all of the food they have given us and how they have taken care of all of the referees -- they have just done a great job. We are very impressed with their first time out for a tournament of this size." 


With more than 100 teams and 200 matches, the Presidents Cup is the MSA's biggest annual event. Kitchens said the Kohl's Cup, a slightly smaller tournament that typically features more than 100 teams, the Mississippi State Cup, the Coaches Cup, and district tournaments are among the events the city will be able to bid on in the future. 


Eguaoje said he liked the drainage areas around the fields that would have allowed the fields to handle rain if it had come. As it was, temperatures were in the high 80s and low 90s Saturday and Sunday, according to The Weather Channel, so heat was one of the primary concerns of tournament organizers. Referees incorporated water breaks midway through each half to give the players breaks and to allow them to stay hydrated. 




A+ grade 


"None of the nets had holes in them," Eguaoje said. "I have been doing this for a long time. It is hard to see. I would give Columbus an A+, quite frankly. Everything has been brilliant." 


Kitchens liked the fact that the downtown Columbus Soccer Complex was big enough and versatile enough to play host to nearly all of the Presidents Cup. He said having all of the matches at one location makes it easier to handle all of the logistics involved in running an event of this size. This year's Presidents Cup also featured matches at the Cook Soccer Complex and at Columbus High School. 


"We made two or three visits up here to continue to look at their facilities to see if they were moving along because you have some people who will tell you they are doing one thing and you find out something different," Kitchens said. "We came up here and checked on things and told them this is what you have to line up and this is what you need to do and they have done all of it. 


"Were we nervous coming up here? We were concerned, as with any time we host a tournament because our name is all over it. It might come in Columbus and if it is a flop, Columbus is going to get a black eye, and we are, too. We, more than anybody else, want it to be a success, and we're going to give you everything you need if you provide us what we ask for, and that is what happened this weekend."


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.



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