Q&A with Gordon Jago

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.