BLAINE, Minn. — This year, the Target USA Cup is back in full swing for the first time in three years. The nine-day youth soccer tournament kicked off Friday, welcoming teams from around the world.
In 2020, the tournament was cancelled altogether. Last year, organizers were able to bring it back, but they still couldn't welcome global players. This year they can once again finally bring student athletes from around the world to the National Sports Center's fields.
"It’s a cultural experience," Sara Soli, chief marketing officer for USA Cup, said. "Kids from Blaine get to meet kids from all over the world. Sometimes they become pen pals or social media friends. Really, they get to experience things right here in Minnesota that they ever get to experience otherwise."
That includes 15-year-old Dima Bibikov, from Ukraine.
"We are very amazed," Bibikov said. "We are very excited to be here. It's a very good opportunity."
Friday, Bibikov and a few of his Ukrainian teammates guest played on a team from Spencer, Iowa. It gave kids like Alexis Sanaba, a goalie from Spencer, a chance to meet new people.
"It's pretty cool to see people here from different countries," he said.
Blaine City Councilmember Julie Jeppson said the tournament is a "large investment" for the city, but pays back big -- both figuratively and literally.
"This event alone year-after-year brings in about $30 million into our immediate economy," Jeppson said.
This year, the tournament also features a day dedicated to conversations about mental health. In "Speak Up at USA Cup," kids will have a chance to share openly about experiences in recent years.
"We’re encouraging kids to talk to each other and their friends, their families, grown ups about how they’re feeling and it’s okay not to feel okay," Soli said.
Above all, Soli says the sense of unity has come back as strong as ever.
"This is the first time in a few years the whole world has come back together," she said.