Q&A with Gordon Jago

Executive director of Dallas Cup sits down with FCDallas.com

The soccer
resume of one Gordon Jago is pretty impressive. A player in his native England,
he then became a head coach in the NASL and also briefly coached the US
National team. Dallas-area soccer fans remember him for his two stints coaching
the area’s former indoor team the Sidekicks, whom he led to a pair of
championships during his tenure. More recently, Jago has served as executive
director of the Dallas Cup, which is regarded as one of the most prestigious
youth soccer tournaments in the entire world. He recently discussed this year’s
event for a few minutes and here’s what he had to say.

Discuss
this year’s Dallas Cup.

Jago: Interestingly, of course, it’s a new
competition in every way. We have so many new people with a new sports
equipment company, Nike. We have a new host club, the Dallas Texans. Business-wise, we have a new creative artist company. For us, there are a lot of new
things and you take that into the tournament. I’m pleased to have three
international teams in the Super Group. Basically, they’re Under-20 teams i.e.
America, Mexico and Japan. Then of course, we have the women’s international
game for Susan G. Komen with USA Under-17 and Brazil Under-17. This is the most
international teams we’ve ever had in the Dallas Cup in one season. We’ve had
the Under-20s and Under-17s once with the USA and I think that’s about it. The
big thing this year is having three teams that are preparing for the Under-20
championship in Colombia next year. They are a big plus for us in terms of the
attraction for good soccer.

This
year, you have the US and Brazil Under-17 women’s teams playing in a benefit
match for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Discuss how that came about.

Jago: Three of our board members have
wives who are survivors of breast cancer and my wife is also. All of us have
been very deeply involved in the well-being of our wives and got involved in
the cancer world, shall we say. It’s incredible that all the ladies went to
Baylor (Medical Center) and are under the same doctor. It was a natural
reaction when we were talking about having a women’s international game.

At
first, we were able to get the US Under-17 and Brazil Under-17. The object of
the exercise was for both teams to have the opportunity to prepare for the
World Championships in Trinidad in September. Unfortunately, the USA went to
compete and got beat by Canada in penalties last week and won’t be going. Of
course, Brazil did quality and will be going. That was an attraction to start
with and then it followed on in a natural way. We wanted to help a good cause
with these young ladies. It’s a women’s game and we wanted to support a women’s
charity. Susan G. Komen came quickly to mind because of what I just said about
the three ladies and my wife all being survivors.

What is
the biggest challenge for you with each year’s even t?

Jago: Well, I think we try to come up with
top teams and new top teams as well as the old ones. For example, we have sent
invitations already to Manchester United and Barcelona for next year. We were
hoping to try and get a reply before this year’s tournament so we could
announce it. That’s the sort of challenge that we have each year, to bring
in the very best of youth soccer from around the world.

What I’m trying also to
do now is to bring in some countries that are new to us. I tried to get the
North Korea Under-17 women by the way. I contacted their federation because
they are unbelievably strong. They have won the Under-17 and the Under-20 women’s
championship and I tried very hard to get them this year. That’s the challenge
that we have, to come up with talented teams that are going to be interesting
to the soccer community of Dallas.

The other thing that’s important is once you
get a particularly attractive team, then other top teams want to come. That’s
the situation that prevails. When I first joined, we had a problem with the
Under-12s after 9/11 because parents weren’t letting the youngsters travel. We
had nothing come in for the Under-12s at that time. I had Manchester United’s
Under-12 team agree to come over and as soon as I put it on the Web site, we had
32 teams in no time. That was a clear indication to me that when they get their
notice of being accepted, the next question is: who’s in our bracket? They all
want to put themselves to the test against visiting international teams and I
think that’s the secret of the Dallas Cup at this moment. It has been able to
bring in a large number - I think we’re over 60 foreign teams this year - into
the tournament across the board. By being able to do that, you get the
youngsters here. They want to come and test themselves against players from
other countries.

How
proud does it make you to know your event has such a renowned reputation across
the globe?

Jago: Well, we take a lot of pride but we’re
also disappointed. Everywhere we go, if we’re wearing a Dallas Cup shirt or my
luggage label says Dallas Cup, people recognize it. I was in Heathrow Airport
and the guy behind the counter saw Dallas Cup and said his boys played in it
two years ago. But we’re not as well known in our
own city. That’s what I’m trying to do now, build more awareness of the Dallas
Cup in our own area. We are a well-known soccer tournament in the soccer world
around the world but not so much here.

This year, I’ve got four teams going
into the schools for a meet-and-greet and cultural exchange. I’ve got Japanese, New Zealand, Mexico and England teams going into local schools. I’ve
got Tottenham and Chelsea to the two children’s hospitals, Scottish Rite and
such. So, it’s two-fold and part of that is the diversity factor. But I’m also
trying to build awareness in our own city. I often say that the Dallas Cup is
the best-kept secret in Dallas. That’s something that we’re trying to bring
about.

All of us connected to this event, the last 31 years have been unbelievable
with the tournament and the way its built itself from 36 teams in the first
one to where it is today. For us to receive so many applications, we had 360
applications for 180 spots. For every one available, there were two applicants.
We’re quite pleased with that and proud of that. Each year, we try to not only
maintain our standards of everything but increase it all the time. That’s half
the battle, to keep coming up with attractive teams that haven’t been seen by
our local soccer fans. In the summer, now we have to get more international
teams to commit, particularly from Scandinavia. I don’t understand why we haven’t
had many teams from that area in some time. I wanted to try and see if we can’t
attract some interest from there for next year.