CLOSER LOOK: 2014 Champions Cup

I really have to give Rialto Carter Coach Dario Navarro credit. It’s a terrific idea.

A Champions Cup pitting the Inland Area’s most recent league champions in a yearly group play tournament.

That’s just enthusiastic mental effort, and on paper it’s great.

Eight (or more) entrants, all league champions, all with high rankings. There’s going to be some exotic matchups there.

“I wanted this tournament to be different, special,” Navarro wrote in an email on Dec. 2, 2014. “Naturally, it needed to be invitation only. And so, only teams who won league, a tournament, or CIF, were given the opportunity to participate.”

“The invitation says that we have noticed a team’s hard work and success, and their results have set them above many others. Those that were not invited, we hope, get motivated,” Navarro continued. “The concept, in some ways, echoes the UEFA Champions League sense of prestige and honor of playing alongside teams that are likeminded and hungry for success.”

There may be bugs to work out — like back-to-back games on weeknights and/or home-use facility issues — but several coaches have had good things to say.

“I really like the idea,” San Bernardino San Gorgonio coach Adrian Villalobos said. “The quality of the teams has been pretty good. Obviously, being the first year, we’ll see how it goes.”

“I think it’s a great idea. I like the idea behind pitting some of the better teams against each other, especially early in the season,” Redlands East Valley coach Ted Small said. “I like the idea or rewarding teams for their past accomplishments, where winning league the year before can lead to a prestigious tournament.”

Small is also impressed by the Champions Cup’s potential effect on Inland are high school soccer.

“For the Inland Empire I think it’s huge. I really do,” Small said. “From a rankings point of view, when you get to CIF the Inland Empire teams sometimes get overlooked. It’s a better way of playing some of the Inland Empire’s more competitive teams even though we’re not in the same division.”

Better teams, better matchups, better soccer. It’s simple, efficient, beautiful.

“I think it’s a good thing competitively,” Small said. “Credit to Carter, too. It’s their tournament yet they’re not in the tournament because they didn’t win a league championship last year. All (Navarro) wants is to create a format the creates a very competitive environment.”

This year it was Bloomington (Sunkist League champion), Corona Centennial (Big VIII co-champion), Redlands East Valley (Citrus Belt champion) and San Gorgonio (San Andreas champion) in Group A. Corona (Big VIII co-champion), Diamond Bar (), Jurupa Hills () and Ontario () in Group B.

Next year might bring 10 teams, then 12 the next, and then who knows? Could tournament blossom to the point where every Inland area league champion — from the Hacienda League on the west end of San Bernardino County to the Mojave River League in the high desert to the Desert Valley League in the low desert to the Southwestern League in Riverside County and everywhere in between — competes for one trophy?

Now that’s an idea.

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