The Charger Blog

Sport Management Majors Get Chance to Be in on the Ground Floor of a Major New Soccer Event

A group of Chargers recently played key roles in the inaugural TST – The Soccer Tournament – a $1 million winner-take-all event organized in large part by a University alum.

July 17, 2023

By Jackie Hennessey, Contributing Writer

The inaugural TST included several Chargers.
The inaugural TST included several Chargers.

For Ian Sacci ’24, the biggest takeaway from interning at TST: The Soccer Tournament (TST), the inaugural 32-team, four-day $1 million winner-take-all international competition, was that when it comes to orchestrating a major sporting event, you have to be ready for everything.

Sacci was one of eight University of New Haven Sport Management students who handled player and guest relations for the tournament which drew more than 20,000 people to the finals at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina, in early June.

It was a high-stakes, first-of-its-kind tournament, with professional and amateur teams featuring former U.S men’s national team players Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, former U.S. Women’s World Cup champions Heather O’Reilly and Kristine Lilly Heavy, coached by soccer legend Mia Hamm, as well as players from West Ham United F.C., teams from Tel Aviv and the Philippines, and teams with college standouts.

“Spending this time with the coaches and players was an experience I will never forget,” said Megan Sullivan ’24. “It was critical that I made sure they arrived at their assigned fields, whether to practice or a for a game, on time.”

She also came to understand “the significant effort that is expended in the back-end things that need to occur for an event to run seamlessly and effectively.”

Kelly Quigley ’18 (center) helped create the opportunity for several Chargers to be involved in the inaugural TST.
Kelly Quigley ’18 (center) helped create the opportunity for several Chargers to be involved in the inaugural TST.
‘Want a unicorn’

The internship opportunity came about when Kelly Quigley ’18, manager of marketing and events at TST, reached out to Ceyda Mumcu, Ph.D., associate professor, and chair of Sport Management.

The soccer tournament was started by the same group that created the popular TBT: The Basketball Tournament 10 years ago. When they decided to create TST, company executives recruited Quigley to help launch it. She knew she wanted to get University of New Haven students involved.

“In the Sport Management department every class I was part of would have speakers from the WNBA, the Hartford Yard Goats, Wolfpack hockey, and more to show us all the different avenues we could go into,” Quigley said.

She also knows that employers often “want a unicorn: 21 years old right out of school with some experience.” So, wherever she’s worked –in marketing at U.S. Youth Soccer, now at TST – she wanted to provide students with internship experience.

TST brought together soccer professionals and fans.
TST brought together soccer professionals and fans.
‘That’s something that’s valuable no matter what I do in the future’

During the tournament, the interns, Sacci and Sullivan, along with Halle Palmedo ’24 M.S., Terence Pyres ’24, Nicolas Cortes Arango ’24 M.S., Charles Lawal ’24, David Ramirez ’24, and Rocio Mejia ’25, arrived at the venue around 5 a.m., working under the guidance of the University’s Women’s Soccer Coach Laura Duncan ’18 M.S., and they worked until midnight or two in the morning, prepping for the next day’s games.

It was fast paced and tapped into everything Sacci said he learned in his venue, event, and international sports management courses.

“We started the morning by helping with the final touches to the athlete village,” said Sacci, who plans to go into sport event management. “I was the point person for several of the teams participating. That meant answering any questions they had and figuring out when to take them to the practice field. Every day I was there I was thinking ‘Ok, what do I need to do and what order should I get it done?’ and that’s something valuable no matter what I do in the future.”

soccer field
TST was a high-stakes, first-of-its-kind soccer tournament.
‘The impact we had’

Coach Duncan marveled at the way her former player, Quigley, handled the never-ending complexities of running a tournament and the resiliency and professionalism of the students. “Our students were responsible for 32 teams,” she said. “All of it was on TV, so the games had to start on time. There was no getting it wrong. They were continually problem solving.”

Added Quigley, “The interns helped with set up and take down – and everything I could have possibly needed while they were on site. They nailed it.”

In the end, the students watched as Newtown Pride F.C., an amateur team that dedicates its matches in honor of the memory of the victims of Sandy Hook, won the tourney.

“The moment that sticks out to me was our entire group watching the final match at field level and seeing the stands packed with fans,” Sacci said. “There was a sense of camaraderie, but we were also able to take a step back and see the impact we had on the whole tournament.”