Imagine Schwan’s USA CUP as a roller coaster. After taking off for the start of a new season in the spring, the energy slowly creeps uphill, the anticipation building for that first big drop that is USA CUP. And if USA CUP is that first big hill, Opening Ceremonies is that unforgettable moment right before you go over the edge, when you can see where you’re headed and you hang on until the end of the thrilling ride.
Opening Ceremonies in the NSC Stadium during the mid 1990s
And after 30 years of holding Opening Ceremonies, the USA CUP knows how to put on a show.
“This is the only time at USA CUP that everybody in the tournament family is all in the same space together. Normally, they’re spread all over the campus and teams are not here when they’re not playing games maybe. But everybody’s here for Opening Ceremonies,” Chief Communications Officer Barclay Kruse says.
With hundreds of teams and thousands of USA CUP players together at Opening Ceremonies, what results is perhaps the most memorable experience of the entire tournament.
“This is the one night where teams really get to meet a lot of the other teams from all over the world and it is the one event at USA CUP where years later this is the night they remember the most,” Director of Marketing Scott Clasen says.
Modeled after the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, teams from around the world will walk in front of thousands of fans and fellow USA CUP participants, and, like the Olympics, some will be representing much more than just their team.
“Parading in, feeling like an Olympian as they enter the stadium to a huge crowd and being a cheered and the fact that they are representing not just their team or club, but their community or their state or their country even,” Clasen says. “So you’re no longer just a member of some team from Omaha, but you’re now representing Nebraska, which is cool for the kids.”
But the parade is just the beginning of the Ceremonies. After that, Ceremonies continue with skydivers, a torch lighting, fireworks and a celebration after the event.
“Every year, no matter how many years I’ve done this, it’s always a cool thing when whoever we’ve chosen to walk in with the torch and light the cauldron – they think it’s a really cool thing and you can see it on their face – and right after the cauldron’s lit fireworks go off,” Clasen says. “It’s just a cool moment to be a part of with everyone in the stadium like that, and, I don’t know, it just never gets old.”
Pele at the 1992 Opening Ceremonies in the Metrodome
Some Opening Ceremonies have also included guests of honor, including Pele in 1992 and again in 1997 and Samuel Eto’o in 2008.
“We completely underestimated the impact that Pele’s appearance would have. It wasn’t even so much the players as it was the coaches, especially of the international teams,” Clasen says. “Pele was just synonymous with soccer. If there was one soccer player you knew as a run-of-the-mill American in 1992, it was Pele, even though he’d finished playing 15 years prior to that.”
Even after the official Opening Ceremonies conclude, the celebration continues with the Rock the CUP event, which is the most memorable part of the night for some regulars at USA CUP.
“It’s not necessarily the ceremony itself, it’s afterwards, down on the field, after the ceremony has ended … you walk amongst all the teams and it’s just one of the coolest atmospheres I’ve ever been around where everyone is taking pictures with people they just met,” Clasen says. “All the barriers of social norms break down and people who normally aren't necessarily outgoing about going to talk to someone they don’t know will just say, ‘Where are you from? I’m from Texas,’ ‘Well, I’m from Arizona!’ and they take pictures with arms around each other and everywhere you turn there are groups of teams taking photos with one another.”
And for a tournament that advertises itself as the greatest youth soccer experience in the Western Hemisphere, Opening Ceremonies is the perhaps the most memorable experience of the whole tournament.
“It’s just a really cool vibe down on the field after the ceremonies have concluded but before everyone has cleared out. It’s not like ceremonies end, fireworks are done and people just leave. They definitely hang around,” Clasen says. “That part never gets old for me.”
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