Peter Vermes, the U.S. National team captain, is in Columbia this weekend and so are approximately 4,000 youngsters who will compete in the 200-team Columbia Invitational Soccer tournament.
Between the inevitable autograph sessions, Vermes will be host to the Chiquita Soccer Challenge today at Centennial High School from noon to 3 p.m., and he'll play for the Tampa Bay Rowdies (1-2) against the Maryland Bays (3-0) tonight in an American Professional Soccer League game at Cedar Lane Park.
The Chiquita Challenge is for youngsters 6 to 14 and is a comprehensive test of soccer skills, combining ball control, dribbling, passing and shooting into one course. Competition will be in eight boys and girls categories, and there will be a random sweepstakes drawing for a U.S. National team uniform.
The Columbia Invitational, recognized as one of the premier youth tournaments in the United States, will begin today and run through Monday at several locations around Columbia. On Monday, all championship games will be played at Centennial High beginning at 9 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m.
Vermes, who scored the goal in the 1-0 victory by the United States over Uruguay in a May 5 exhibition, sees this tournament and the Bays-Rowdies game as a perfect opportunity to build some momentum for soccer and the 1994 World Cup.
"It's now up to the kids and their parents to take the responsibility to come out and see the top players in the country," Vermes said. "As players, we can only do so much. Kids need to see the top players play, and then they can emulate their moves at an early age. They need to develop heroes in soccer like they have in other sports."
But Maryland coach Gary Hindley doesn't want Vermes, a forward, to be too much of star tonight against the Jean Harbor-led Bays.
"Peter Vermes gives them a new dimension," Hindley said. "We're going to have to be extremely cognizant of where he is on the field at all times."
Asked who might have to mark Vermes tonight, Hindley said: "We won't have man-to-man coverage on him but I would imagine he'll line up somewhere near our George Gelnovatch [Bays defender]. George was a first-team All-Star defender [for the Penn-Jersey Spirit in the American Soccer League last season]."