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7v7 Nation Army: MLS should take TST seriously

The $1 million cash prize is reason enough for professional teams to enter the tournament.

Shouldn't more than one MLS club go for the $1 million cash haul?
“Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.”
— Indiana Jones, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”

Seven is a great number for soccer. Two attackers, Two midfielders, two defenders, and a keeper make up your standard 7-v-7 rec league team. NYCFC’s all-time leading scorer wore No 7. Seventy yards is the alleged width of the Yankee Stadium pitch. 

And, well, I can hear the New Jersey-ians screaming about some 7-0 score back in 2016 — but it’s hard to hear them when you have an MLS Cup and Campeones Cup in your ears. 

But this spring, there’s a new soccer “Seven” to look forward to. 

The Soccer Tournament (TST) is the brainchild of the folks behind The Basketball Tournament (TBT), a 64-team open basketball tournament held during the summer. Now in its tenth year, TBT features squads of ex-college and professional players, all competing for a $1 million grand prize. You may have seen past competitions filling time on ESPN during the summer months after the NBA and NHL seasons ended.

This year, the inaugural TST will be held in North Carolina June 1-4, and will feature 32 co-ed teams – all paying a $15,000 entry fee on average – to compete for the $1 million grand prize. They’ll play on a smaller 45-yard by 65-yard pitch (insert Yankee Stadium joke here), allow for rolling hockey-style substitutions (14-man rosters), play 20-min halves, and end all matches with a golden goal using their unique “elam ending” pioneered in the TBT that sets a target score for the winner. This short video explains it all.

The field looks loaded with an entertaining mix of European club squads, Liga MX clubs, U.S. collegiate alumni, MLS alumni, USMNT and USWNT alums, and National League/Hulu stars Wrexham FC. Even MLS newcomer Charlotte FC is sending a side. 

A current MLS team joining the TST7v7 fray? In-season too? That piqued my interest. 

While Charlotte might play a group of backups (as the First Team has league matches against Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew during the tournament) or might field players from MLS NEXT Pro’s Crown Legacy, the potential exposure, plus the marketing opportunity to play in their home state, plus the massive $1M cash prize, makes it too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Which is why MLS should encourage more clubs to participate in TST next year — and maybe even start a competing version of their own for the preseason or the All-Star competition. 

Because, in the end, it’s all about the benjamins. Or, as Indiana Jones says, “Fortune and glory, kid.”

After all, that $1 million TST purse dwarfs the small prize money amounts given to tournament winners in US soccer. The long-time US Open Cup tournament only rewards the finalists — the winners take home $300,000, and the runners-up $100,000, plus additional $25,000 bonuses to the teams from lower divisions that advance the farthest.  That’s for six rounds of competition for most MLS teams. 

The US Open Cup, for all its history and pageantry, desperately needs a big-time corporate sponsor to put their name on it, and to create a sizable cash prize for winners of every round. 

The 2023 Leagues Cup cash prize is yet unknown, but without a title sponsor, it’s likely to also be a low amount. What’s the going pawn rate for a CONCACAF Champions League spot? 

And the rest of the world’s soccer clubs play these midseason tourneys for big bucks. 

Having another tournament option on the calendar for MLS clubs to compete in, gain brand exposure, and possibly take home a treasure chest full of cash for four days’ work is a worthy endeavor. 

The league and its MLSPA should consider working with TST to help highlight the league’s stars and their skills. Open up that weekend to allow the MLS’s top players to participate and dominate.

Perhaps, even consider bringing in the TST short-pitch, no slide tackle, golden-goal ending format into the annual MLS All-Star competition, splitting up the league’s stars into four regional teams like the NHL does for its annual All-Star Showcase — all for a big cash prize or for their team’s chosen charity.  

Imagine MLS Commissioner Don Garber wheelbarrowing in a massive pile of cash to the winners.  

Now that’s a “Lucky Seven” that MLS, its fans, and its players could embrace.