When most Torontonians think of Mexico, they dream up sandy beaches. Swim-up bars. Just about every stereotype possible! It’s a Mexico that’s Cancun, Playa del Carmen and the Mayan Riviera, coastline paradises supplying your every want and need. But what they don’t see is the rest of the country, where 99% of its people live lives more concerned with putting food on the table than they are that your cocktail’s lacking in tequila. That, my friends, is the real Mexico—and it’s in this Mexico that nearly 300 fútbol players competed to see who’d come out on top not only in their countries but all of Central and North America, as well as the Caribbean, too!
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you—the third annual Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Under-13 fútbol tournament (SCCLU13). Please fasten your seatbelts!
Toluca, Mexico — Because There IS Life Outside of Mexico City!
An hour west of the very populous Mexico City (with an estimated 30 million people living in the area) lies the industrial city Toluca, which I don’t imagine many of you would visit unless you had a reason to be there. A town of 800,000 found 2600 metres above sea level, Toluca’s prone to altitudinal challenges, fluctuating temperatures, and a strong curiosity about tourists (locals asked to take photos with me five times in the four days I was there!)
While I didn’t have the time to catch the city’s sights, I soaked the city in as we drove through it, immediately noting the differences between the “normal” there from the one I knew back home in Toronto! Like the food and drink offered to you instead of squeegees at red lights. Or starting dinner at a time where many Canadians are heading to bed. With a vibe and identity all of its own, Toluca made for an interesting proving ground for young men from ten different countries. One providing a unique opportunity—to become part of the youngest age group ever to compete in an official CONCACAF event!
Let me tell you more about it ?
The Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League Under-13 Fútbol Tournament—16 Teams. 40 Games. One. Eventual. Outcome.
“Scotiabank aims to support organisations that are committed to helping young people reach their infinite potential….”
— John Doig, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Scotiabank
The SCCLU13 is part of an ongoing partnership between the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and Scotiabank—the official bank of CONCACAF—since 2014 to support youth and their communities by investing in their long-term security, stability and growth! In addition to this tournament, Scotiabank supports plenty of national youth championships and leagues from the U-12 through U-20 levels, including Men’s and Women’s U-17 and U-15 tournaments; U-20 World and Olympics qualifiers; and the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, CONCACAF’s flagship event for national teams!
Impressive as that is, it’s far from Scotiabank’s first kick at it, investing in communities for 185 years looking to make lasting and measurable impacts through their efforts! It’s not a contribution to take lightly—this trip reminded me all children are born with infinite potential; it’s their circumstances and environments that can hold them back. Reality is that someone can be so talented but lack the opportunity and resources to pursue it. There’s only so much one can accomplish without the help to make things work, so it’s great that Scotiabank does just that by covering the cost of teams’ transportation, lodging and meals for the SCCLU13. They fix their eyes on the future and what these youths can achieve given the rights tools to work with!
Central and South America Love Fútbol!
For those who might not know just how big fútbol is across the world, there’re 250,000 kids playing it competitively in Mexico alone—nearly a tenth of their child population! The sport’s a religion for many living in Central and South America, much like how we treat hockey in Canada or how they see American football in the States. It’s a region ripe for competitions bringing the gap between those treating fútbol as a lifestyle from those who treat it as a hobby, and with a strong existing presence in Central America and the Caribbean, Scotiabank was perfect for the job!
Scotiabank and CONCACAF launched the SCCLU13 in 2015 as the premiere invitational U-13 fútbol tournament in the region, and my how it’s grown! From its start with eight teams, 128 players and 16 matches, it now boasts 16 teams, 288 players and a whopping 40 games to determine who comes out on top! With 41 member associations in its ranks, CONCACAF invited them to nominate their best U-13 clubs to represent their countries at an international level—club colours and all!
They played 2017’s SCCLU13 at the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol’s (FEMEXFUT) Casa de Fútbol in Toluca City, where the players played a round-robin competition to see who’d head home with a trophy and medals! To ensure the players could make the most of their time in Toluca, the tournament’s round-robin format made sure each team played at least three games, as well as including a new Shield Tournament that let teams who didn’t advance still compete for a trophy!
The Scotiabank CONCACAF Under-13 Champions League — More Than Winning
The SCCLU13 also promoted plenty of other values, like discipline, teamwork and proper nutrition to give the boys the resources they’d need to support their success! It wasn’t just about the games—Scotiabank and CONCACAF know that winning alone does not a champion make, so they developed an immersive experience to help shape the players’ lives for years to come!
The tournament brought players together from all across the CONCACAF region. In addition to Canada’s Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps, they played with teams from the United States (Chicago Fire); Costa Rica (CS Herediano & LD Alajeulense); Nicaragua (Real Estelí); El Salvador (CD Santa Ana & ADFA San Salvador); Panama (Plaza Amador); Honduras (CD Victoria); Trinidad & Tobago (Police FC); Jamaica (Portmore United FC); and of course Mexico, whose FEMEXFUT played host to the event (with Fuerza Naranja, LM Boca del Rio, Pioneers Cancun & Universidad Cantera Norte)!
If you’ve never been to a fútbol tournament before, let me tell you—it is intense. You usually had three games going at once. Supporter sections trying to out-cheer each other! The air was electric, the tournament advancing an hour at a time!
There were favourites on the field, like 2016’s champions Santa Ana FC. Real Estelí, LD Alajeulense, CS Herediano and the Vancouver Whitecaps were also SCCLU13 veterans, bringing their familiarity and experience with them to Toluca. No matter who made it to the top, the competition was there to make sure the journey wouldn’t be easy!
To Quote DMX, “How’s it Going Down?”
I even felt like part of the crowd for a bit! As a Scotiabank representative, I was supposed to be impartial, but I couldn’t help but root for Toronto FC, who I’d seen off at the airport earlier in the month. They fought well and defied the odds, but after a crushing semifinal defeat, I knew the rest of the tourney wouldn’t be the same, no matter what the outcome.
Even so, it was a hard-fought battle by every team there, with Mexico’s Universidad Cantera Norte ultimately taking the 2017 title, defeating Costa Rica’s LD Alajeulense with a 2-0 score!
And there were other honours to be had:
- Chicago Fire went home with the SCCLU13 Shield after defeating CD Santa Ana in the Shield Tournament
- Universidad Cantera Norte’s Luis Fernando Renteria Farias won the Most Valuable Player award for demonstrating top performance across all players in the tournament
- The Golden Boot went to Universidad Cantera Norte’s Miguel Ángel Carréon Medel for scoring the most goals
- The Golden Glove went to Toronto FC’s Dino Bontis as the tournament’s most outstanding goalkeeper
- and Honduras’ CD Victoria won the Fair Play award as the tournament’s most disciplined team!
After a week and a half in Toluca, it was time for everyone to go their separate ways, with the hope they were heading back a little more seasoned than when their trains, planes and automobiles first landed. They’d all made new friends, learned new tricks and put plenty of video on Snapchat, but real life beckoned, and it was time they all got back to their respective paths to handle whatever might come next!
The 2017 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League Under-13 Fútbol Tournament — Perhaps the First Step of the Rest of Someone’s Life.
Though I never grew up with sports as a driver in my life, I can still appreciate why it’s so important for others in theirs. It’s more than just the love for one’s team and the thrill of the game—succeeding at sport can present very real opportunities for those who might not have them otherwise, and standing out in a tournament like the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League Under-13 can get your name out internationally, starting you on a path you may never have thought possible!
So here’s to Scotiabank and CONCACAF. Here’s to the players, coaches and families who made it all possible. To FEMEXFUT, whose feet on the ground and fields underfoot made for an excellent SCCLU13! I had a great time in Mexico’s Toluca City, and feel honoured that I was invited to watch it all unfold! Every team there should feel the same—being good enough to play internationally at such a young age is no small feat, and now there’ll be eyes aplenty on these 288 players to see where their paths take them!
In the end, youth are the leaders of our future, yes… but if we’re not committed to giving them what they need to get there, what kind of future will that be?
Thanks for reading—these words don’t do my four days in Toluca justice, but if you didn’t appreciate the game of fútbol already, I hope you do now!
Until the next,
Disclaimer: I wrote this post as a Scotiabank Ambassador, a program that compensates for my thoughts and content with a stipend, unique opportunities, and exclusive access to Scotiabank staff and affiliations! It yields amazing experiences like this, but all thoughts and opinions, as always, remain my own!