MANATEE -- The event started four years ago as a regional competition.
Then it grew and attracted national teams.
When play begins Wednesday in the annual IMG Cup soccer tournament at IMG Academy, fans will get a glimpse of the future of the professional game as the tournament has gone global.
"For the average person who just wants to kind of see the next wave of pros, some of these players are eventually going to be household names in five to 10 years," IMG Academy soccer director Scott Dean said. "So it'd be like going to watch Triple-A baseball and saying, 'Hey, who is going to be the next big pro.' And they are going to see the same thing here."
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The top draw this year is Tottenham Hotspur's U-18 team, which will participate
in the Super Group competition alongside Stevenage FC (England), IMG Academy's U-17s, Alliance Academy (Michigan), Baltimore Celtic (Maryland), Cruzeiro (Brazil), Quertaro (Mexico) and the United States Men's National Team, which is fresh off capturing the Nike International Friendlies last week in Lakewood Ranch.
"That's what we're trying to do; we're trying to get as many quality games as we can at any time," U.S. head coach Richie Williams said. "Internationals are our first focus, but international club games are also very good. ... It will be good experience for our guys."
Getting a club like Tottenham to enter the fray was a no-brainer, due to Spurs' affliation with Under Armour, an IMG Academy sponsor.
While the tournament starts Wednesday, the event's marquee matchups take place Friday night under the lights at IMG Academy's state-of-the-art stadium unveiled in August for the football program's inaugural high school season.
Friday features a doubleheader when Tottenham battles Team USA, while IMG takes on Brazilian giants Cruzeiro.
Aside from the heavyweights, the tournament is broken down into several other age divisions. As a byproduct, Dean said roughly 100 college coaches will attend the youth event scouting future talent.
Some of those schools include Indiana, Penn State, Wake Forest and Maryland.
"You're getting all the big-time schools," Dean said.
The tournament runs through Sunday and is open to the public at no charge, except for the Super Group matches contested under the lights, which will go for $10 per ticket.