Sponsored by West Linn's Willamette United Football Club, the Mount Hood Challenge soccer tournament is set to kick off throughout the Portland metro area on Friday, Aug. 5, and run until Aug. 7.
Established in 2009, the tournament has consistently been one of the West Coast's biggest — and its growth has surged in recent years. Despite the ongoing fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's tournament will be over 100 teams larger than the 2021 event.
"This will be the biggest one-weekend tournament ever held in the Pacific Northwest," said Mike Morris, the tournament director and co-founder of Tournament Services Inc.
Morris said he anticipates 25,000 athletes and spectators to attend across the Portland metro area.
Twenty-three venues — four of which are in West Linn, three in Wilsonville and one in Lake Oswego — with a total of 67 fields scattered across Portland and its suburbs will host 503 club soccer teams, over 100 of which hail from neighboring states and areas such as Washington, California, Utah and British Columbia. Some teams are condensed and combined due to players being absent.
"It's always fun to play people from outside of the state, because you end up playing the teams in-state during league (play) and you see them a lot," said Willamette United Director of Operations Steve Piercy, who will also coach several teams this weekend. "It's kind of nice to get that variety of playing teams and kids from other states."
More than 1,000 games will be played between 1 p.m. on Friday and 4 p.m. on Sunday, and 266 of the 503 teams will play in either a championship game or third-place game Sunday. The tournament's tight timeframe helps traveling teams avoid excessive hotel costs, Morris said. And, unlike many high-profile tournaments, every team is guaranteed at least four games.
"I just think it's a great thing for this area, for our youth, for our families," said Bobbi Kelly, a long-time Willamette United board member. "It's a great thing to bring into the area and also maybe get the word of Portland out in the surrounding areas a little bit."
Fifty-two third and fourth grade teams will compete in seven-on-seven matches, 128 fifth and sixth grade teams will play nine-on-nine matches and the remaining middle school and high school age groups will play traditional 11-on-11 matches.
Given the vast scale of the event, Willamette United enlisted Morris and his co-founder Valorie Westland to handle the tournament's logistics in 2009, and the pair often begin the yearly planning as early as January.
"We're probably famous for being better than anybody at accommodating coaches with multiple teams where they need to get to multiple games during the same tournament," said Morris, who has designed and run tournaments for over 30 years through the Oregon Youth Soccer Association and regional tournament committee. "The logistics are huge when you have 500 teams."
Most large tournaments are curated for elite teams, often tilting in their favor by way of bracket design. The Mount Hood Challenge caters to a much greater variety of levels.
"It's not geared towards just the top teams," Piercy said. "It's everywhere from a recreational team to a very competitive team."
Added Morris: "We don't want lopsided games. But, to be honest, at the younger levels it's impossible. There's no history, so you don't know who the teams are. They don't know how good they are."
Morris said COVID-19 has also hurt them. They've lost two years of data and have had to start over, to an extent.
Weather also poses potential hiccups. Heat waves have forced the planning team to reschedule or shorten the lengths of games in past years. Potential smoke from wildfires pose the threat of cancellations as well.
Other challenges include finding requisite fields through parks and recreation departments across the state, as well as sourcing referees. Due to a shortage, in years past the tournament has hired out-of-state referees.
Aside from referees, the event utilizes a team of over 50 individuals, most of whom are site coordinators. In the past, the tournament enlisted the help of volunteers, but, in search of more stability and continuity, Kelly has hired paid coordinators.
"What we've been doing now is really giving a leadership opportunity to youth in the community," she said.
Compared to volunteers — who would coordinate sites but often rotate multiple times per day — paid coordinators overlook a site for the entirety of the weekend. Coordinators report scores and provide assistance wherever necessary by answering questions from attendees.
"It's a really intensive and involved tournament," Kelly said.
The popularity of the event also presents opportunities for businesses in the area.
According to Kelly, approximately 150 of this year's teams will stay in hotels. In years past, the tournament partnered with hotels, which would block off a series of rooms for teams participating in the tournament. That's continued in 2022.
The Hilton Garden Inn in Wilsonville has blocked off 10 rooms for one visiting team. Usually, that number is much higher, according to manager Melizza Inocencio.
"Because it's city-wide, I think across the board there is an uptick (in business)," she said. "There's always a need for rooms."
Lake Oswego's Hilton Garden Inn has been working with the tournament for over a decade and, along with other hotels in the area, provides many rooms to visiting teams.
"The tournament always produces really strong numbers, so it was no question that we were going to participate this year," manager Ginger Melton said.
She added: "The industry as a whole has definitely seen some positive momentum, and this tournament has always been a popular tournament in years past, prior to stuff slowing down. This year we are seeing a lot of excitement and are definitely seeing an increase in (reservations)."
In Wilsonville, both the Holiday Inn and Quality Inn are approved partner hotels of the tournament. All tournament teams must lodge at partner hotels if staying overnight.
Wilsonville's Economic Development Manager Matt Lorenzen said that local food and beverage businesses figure to be the chief beneficiaries of the tournament, with an increase of revenue over the course of the tournament due to group meals.
To learn more about the tournament, its venues, rules, schedules, lodging and more, visit http://www.mthoodchallenge.com.
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