Thanks for speaking with us Eric. With this year’s Beer City Cup this week can you tell us a little bit about the history and background of the tournament?
Eric Usher: Absolutely. So it started about 11 years ago originally as the Blue Ridge Cup. Then the second year we had it we changed the name to the Beer City Cup. The idea was loosely based on the Tournament of Friends, which used to be held at the old Pepsi Indoor Center, which was a fantastic tournament. It was wall-to-wall soccer for a day and a half, and you had a bunch of teams, a bunch of divisions and the quality was high. The quality was high and it was just soccer literally from as soon as you woke up until the wee hours of the morning. And it was awesome. So between that and the old Charleston International Tournament, which we used to go play in quite a bit, we kind of put the idea together that it would be fun to have an Asheville tournament and we came up with the Beer City Cup. We thought small-sided would be good because it's easier to get teams and shorter games and more goals, so the excitement level would be higher. We wanted the same kind of feeling as the Tournament of Friends where you had two indoor fields and then with 8v8 on the outdoor field you've got two games side by side which just kind of amped up the energy a little bit. Then we just decided to combine beer with it and some cash prizes, and voilà: here we are.
What was the reaction from the local Asheville players to the tournament?
Well one of the things about playing in Asheville is it's a fantastic adult league. But at the time we played against the same players season after season. At some point it's fun to challenge yourself against some different competition and also kind of get an idea as to where we stand as far as the level goes compared to other teams from other cities and other leagues. The idea was to kind of create a little bit of excitement around, you know, placing new competition and see where we stand. Local players responded well to that idea and embraced it immediately. And honestly, Asheville players quickly found that we were some of the best in the Southeast.
What makes the Beer City Tournament unique across the country?
Well we were the first ones to come up with the recipe of beer, soccer and cash. Sounds silly now but we really were. We were also one of the first ones to really use the 8v8 format. All those things combined with the attraction of the city of Asheville and with our strong local league and thirst for soccer here, all those ingredients turned out to be a winning combination that players wanted to be involved with. We just feel very fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time, and just to be in such an amazing soccer community where people are enthusiastic and supportive, and want to be a part of making the game grow and just enjoying it.
Why do you think it became something that was has grown to be international in participation?
A great question. Why would people want to come to America to play soccer? I think the fact that it's hard to find good competition in the adult soccer world is one of the big draws for the tournament. Adults have a hard time fitting it into their calendars so when you can get people to the same place and, you know, add some other fun elements like beer and fans and a great city, and generally great weather then I think people are willing to travel for that because it's a hard experience to find. You know, as we get older, we're not playing in the Premier League or whatever. But we are still looking for that chance to share in the glory. So I think that's one of the reasons why we've been able to draw teams. You know, across the pond and even from far away in the States. It's a tough thing to find and anybody who's been playing adult soccer understand what I'm talking about.
What role has the ABASA played throughout the eleven years of Beer City?
ABASA has always been fantastic. We are proudly partnered with them and most of the people who work with us on our tournament staff are from the ABASA. Dave and I came through the ABASA - we were on the board - and, as you can imagine, especially at the tournament's beginnings most of the teams were from the ABASA. As it's grown now we have maybe fifteen or twenty percent at the most teams from the ABASA, but without the roots in the ABASA in getting the tournament started and kind of generating the original energy for it, the tournament wouldn't be what it is today.
With last year’s tournament cancelled because of COVID, what obstacles have you had to overcome and what do you think is the future of the Beer City Cup?
Well, we weren't able to have the tournament so obviously that's one challenge that we weren't able to overcome. COVID has presented lots of ways for people to just look in other directions to try to find ways to grow, change or expand. So one of the things we've been looking at is are there different times of year, are there different venues, are there different formats that the tournament could mold into. that has been one way where we've just tried to not necessarily overcome COVID but just try to adapt to the changing landscape that’s been created. We kind of used it as a chance to reset and look at maybe different directions we could take the tournament in the future. But at the moment we're excited to see what the future is going to look like and we really do believe that this chance for reflection could possibly work out to be a positive in the long run.