Hockey may dominate as the most popular major league spectator sport in Michigan, but soccer is swiftly becoming one of the most popular sports for the state’s youth to participate in.
Soccer is the second most popular youth sport in the nation for both girls and boys, and in the US Youth Soccer’s Midwest Region, which includes Michigan, the state had the most players (89,976) during the 2011/2012 season. The only state with close to that number of players was Illinois with 73,692.
Last year, Soccer America magazine listed the Michigan Hawks of Livonia, Michigan as the sixth best youth soccer club for girls in the United States and named their male equivalent, the Michigan Wolves, the 13th best youth soccer club for boys.
As more Michigan youth teams become successful and the sport gains momentum, it’s harder to find facilities to accommodate large-scale tournaments. To help get you looking in the right direction, we have pulled together what we think are three of the most planner-friendly complexes that can host these types of competitions.
Saginaw Township Soccer Complex
This complex in Saginaw, Michigan is one of the largest outdoor soccer complexes in the state. With 22 outdoor grass fields, four restroom facilities, three parking lots and one concession stand, this facility has all the essential elements needed to plan a successful tournament. With 860 parking spots the facility is equipped to host large-scale competitions that draw big crowds.
The city of Saginaw is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, a little over two hours from Grand Rapids, the second largest, and an hour and 15 minutes from Lansing, the fifth largest. Its location makes traveling to and from tournaments easy for the majority of participants. This year, the complex hosted the Saginaw Soccer Classic and the Michigan State Youth Soccer Association State Cup.
There are 10 hotels located within 1.7 miles of the complex, including popular chains such as Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn and Ramada Inn, that contribute to an abundance of lodging options for players and their families. With over 245 restaurants in the city of Saginaw and seven within a mile or less of the complex, there’s never a shortage of dining options.
Saginaw also offers many entertainment options, especially for the younger family members who aren’t participating in the tournament. The city is very kid-friendly and is home to attractions such as the Kokomos Family Fun Center, Castle Museum, the Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum and the Saginaw Children’s Zoo (complete with carousel and horseback rides).
River Oaks Park Soccer Complex
This complex is also one of the biggest facilities of its kind in the state. Just outside Kalamazoo in the suburb of Galesburg, Michigan, River Oaks features 22 outdoor grass fields ranging in full, mid and junior sizes for different skill levels and ages.
The park underwent extensive renovations that were completed in 2005 and added many new fields as well as multiple parking spaces. Today, the complex can offer 7 6v6 junior sized, 8 8v8 mid sized and 11 11v11 full sized convertible fields. There are also 650 paved parking spots, multiple overflow parking areas, improved restroom facilities and a concession stand.
The complex can be rented out to any organization for tournaments, but the teams that call it their home are AYSO Region 212, River Oaks Soccer Club, Kingdom Soccer and Gull Lake Women’s League. Each year, River Oaks is home to several annual tournaments such as the Kingdom Cup and the Kalamazoo Crusaders Cup.
Just 50 minutes from Grand Rapids, one hour and 15 minutes from Lansing and two hours and 15 minutes from Detroit, greater Kalamazoo is conveniently located and features many hotels and attractions that make it attractive to tournament organizers. With over 30 hotels in the area and 10 within seven miles of the complex, there are numerous lodging options available. There are over 400 restaurants in greater Kalamazoo that offer a variety of dining experiences.
There are various ways to keep the whole family entertained during their time off the field. The city of Kalamazoo is 15 minutes from Galesburg, and the area boasts four golf courses, three theaters, two museums and a nature center. The most popular attraction is Air Zoo, formerly known as the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum, which is now an indoor amusement park with exhibits on the history of aviation.
Ultimate Soccer Arenas
This complex in Pontiac, Michigan has the largest indoor soccer fields in North America. With two FIFA world-regulation-sized fields measuring 110 by 75 yards, an 8v8 sized field measuring 85 by 74 yards and another full-sized field on the way, there are many options for varying levels of play.
Ultimate Soccer Arenas is the ideal indoor venue option to keep in mind when planning fall and winter tournaments. The 367,000-square-foot facility is used by the facility’s own youth league as well as its own year-round adult league, and is also frequently rented by local club leagues for state-sanctioned tournaments.
This year, the facility hosted the Charity Cup Amateur Soccer Tournament from May 2-3. Ultimate Soccer Arenas also hosts the Michigan Bucks of the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League, a minor league affiliate of the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.
The city of Pontiac is just outside Detroit, about an hour-and-15-minute drive from Lansing and two hours and 15 minutes from Grand Rapids, making it an extremely accessible location between three of Michigan’s largest cities. There are 18 hotels located within 3.5 miles of the facility including favorites such as Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton, making lodging easily available even if a tournament involves a large number of teams.
The Pontiac area has a multitude of dining options, with five sit-down restaurants and six fast-food restaurants just a few blocks east of Ultimate Soccer Arenas. But if you don’t have time to leave in between games, you can always grab something to eat at the facility’s own Allante Grill, with a full-service menu that includes salads, sandwiches, pizza, smoothies and Starbucks coffee.
When families have some free time, it’s worth taking a trip outside Pontiac to see the attractions that Detroit and the outlying areas have to offer. The Detroit Tigers’ home field, Comerica Park, is about 50 minutes away and includes its own carousel and Ferris wheel to keep even the little ones entertained. Greater Detroit also boasts many other attractions such as The Henry Ford Museum and the Rouge Factory Tour in Dearborn, Michigan, only 40 minutes from Pontiac.
Ultimate Soccer Arenas can be rented out for all kinds of events. The facility hosts multiple high school and college graduations every year, as well as the Oakland Classic gymnastics meet and Detroit International Irish Feis annually. Its in-house grill, pub and catering opportunities make it the perfect multipurpose venue, and the staff is used to working with event planners.
As soccer continues to grow in popularity among Michigan’s youth population, it becomes more vital that tournament planners are aware of large complexes that are conveniently located and can accommodate a large number of teams. If you know of any other large soccer complexes in Michigan, or have experience with any of those listed above, please feel free to comment below.
By Niki Kottmann