Professional soccer is once again trying to find a foothold in Hawai‘i. Organizers of this week’s Pacific Rim Cup hope to make Hawai’i the international east-meets-west sporting venue. HPR’s Ku’uwehi Hiraishi reports.
7.5 year-old Christian McGinnis has been playing soccer ever since he started kindergarten.
“I play for FC Hawai’i. I mostly play defender or winger,” says McGinnis.
McGinnis is one of more than 200 Hawai’i soccer players who got a chance to polish their soccer skills with professional soccer players in town to play in the inaugural Pacific Rim Cup.
A hard tackle from the nearly three-foot tall McGinnis took down English pro soccer player Jay Bothroyd, a starting forward for Japan’s Consadole Saporro.
“No, that didn’t count. He just tripped over the ball,” says McGinnis.
Here’s Bothroyd: “You know they look at us like professionals. But it’s a pleasure to share this time with them and see big smiles on their faces. We’re happy to be here.”
“I think it generates excitement in the soccer community,” says Scott Keopuhiwa, President and Executive Director of the Hawaii Youth Soccer Association.
Keopuhiwa runs the statewide HYSA. He’s been a coach and leader in the local soccer community for more than 20 years.
“The soccer community is eager to see professional level soccer here at home. So I hope that they do embrace it,” says Keopuhiwa.
The Pacific Rim Cup will showcase four professional soccer teams from the U.S., Canada, and Japan. The tournament is the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority’s first sustained attempt to add soccer to their sports marketing repertoire. Leslie Dance is HTA’s Vice President of Marketing and Product Development.
“It’s a world-class soccer event,” says Dance, “And we want the soccer fans, families of young players, and youth soccer teams to embrace this cup and help make it an annual professional event.”
The cup features the Columbus Crew and the Vancouver Whitecaps both from the MLS or Major League Soccer. Representing the J-League, Japan’s pro soccer league, are Hokkaido’s Consadole Sapporo and Fukushima’s Iwaki Football Club. Marketing to J-League fans was a predictable move for Hawai’i.
“We want to be thought of as an international sports destination,” says Dance, “And obviously Japan is our number one international market so that made it even more appealing.”
The soccer initiative has been in the works for nearly a decade thanks in big part to cup organizer and visionary Takehiko Nakamura. But the sudden announcement last fall caught the local soccer community off guard.
“It would’ve been great if the timing was a little bit different,” says Keopuhiwa.
The Pacific Rim Cup runs at the same time as the Hawai’i High School Girls State Soccer Tournament. Nonetheless, cup organizers have done their best to court the local soccer community. This includes a benefit jersey giveaway, volunteer opportunities, and the free soccer clinic.
“It makes me very thankful to be a part of Hawai’i’s soccer community,” says Max Anton, owner of Kailua-based Paradise Soccer Club.
He sees this as an opportunity to grow Hawai’i’s soccer club.
“How inspired these kids are and how happy these kids are not to just be playing at Aloha Stadium right now but to be playing with some professional soccer players,” says Anton.
Former Seattle Sounders midfielder and Moanalua grad Kenji Treschuk agreed.
“It’s amazing to be in Hawai’i playing with professional soccer players in Aloha Stadium,” says Treshuck, “It’s something I wish I had when I was growing up.”
The first game in the Pacific Rim Cup kicks off today at 5:00 p.m. at the Aloha Stadium between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Fukushima’s Iwaki Football Club.