USA CUP began in 1985 by the Sons of Norway, a fraternal benefit organization based in the Twin Cities and was originally modeled after Norway Cup. The first year featured 69 teams, including eleven international teams and six from out of state. The opening ceremonies were held at Burnsville High School in the south metro area but all games were played at the Blaine Soccer Complex. The National Sports Center did not open until 1990.
One of the early highlights of the tournament occurred in 1989 when the U19 boys St. Paul Blackhawks team, with future U.S. National Team and MLS stars Tony Sanneh and Manny Lagos beat Moscow Dynamo from the Soviet Union.
One of the unique parts of USA CUP was the celebrated homestay program where players from visiting international teams stayed in the homes of Minnesota soccer players during the week. As word of the genuine Midwest hospitality and special features of the National Sports Center spread, the tournament grew quickly and by 1992, close to 500 teams were attending the event from 35 U.S. states and 20 countries. USA CUP had become the largest soccer tournament in the Western Hemisphere in a few short years.
1992 also brought another memorable highlight when soccer legend Pelé visited the tournament during opening ceremonies in the Metrodome. No one in attendance will forget the electricity in the air when Pelé ran onto the turf in front of 25,000 screaming fans.
Over the years USA CUP has welcomed many celebrity visitors, including Pelé for a repeat visit in 1997; U.S. National Team stars Michelle Akers, Freddy Adu, Mia Hamm, Kelley McCoy, Cobi Jones, Kristine Lilly, Landon Donovan, Julie Foudy, Abby Wambach and Leslie Osborne; Italian coach Roberto Donadoni; and even Survivor Africa winner and former pro soccer player Ethan Zohn.
The tournament annually hosts special prime-time games in the stadium that match top international teams. Some of the teams that have played on the big stage in front of thousands of USA CUP players and families, include the U.S. and Canadian U17 Men’s National Teams; USA, Canada, Norway and Sweden Women’s National Teams; several MLS teams including the Chicago Fire, Seattle Sounders, LA Galaxy and Minnesota United FC; Swansea City and Bournemouth of the English Premier League; Club Leon of Liga MX; and the hometown Minnesota Thunder and Stars pro teams, forerunners of Minnesota's new MLS team, Minnesota United FC.
USA CUP has always been big – big numbers, big campus, and a big program. In 2007, the tournament attracted more than 1,000 teams for the first time and in 2016 set a team record of 1,178 teams. The 2018 tournament attracted 1,150 teams.
The 690-acre National Sports Center campus boasts not only 50 fields, it’s certainly the only major international soccer tournament that comes with an eight-sheet ice arena, a world-class cycling Velodrome and an 18-hole championship golf course, all within kicking distance of a soccer field.
The tournament has always been innovative about its mission to provide a quality experience off the field. From a full transportation system to an ambitious activity schedule, a gigantic super soccer retail store, live webcasts of selected games, a daily online newspaper and even daily video features, USA CUP is unabashed about being, well BIG!