In France it has been called le lieu où naissent les étoiles, the place where stars are born. Always a gathering of the world’s top soccer powers, this year’s 43rd edition of the Toulon Tournament features regular competitors Netherlands, England and host France, as well as Costa Rica, China, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Mexico, Qatar and the USA.
“It’s a huge tournament,” U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team head coach Andi Herzog said. “I think at this age group, there’s the World Cup and for sure there’s the Olympic Tournament, but apart from those competitions, this is the biggest tournament in this age group. With all the teams like England, Netherlands, France, Mexico, and the USA competing against each other, at this age group that’s a really, really good competition and it’s a good challenge for us to show that we have a good team together.”
In 1975, Cesar Luis Menotti coached an Argentina youth squad featuring Daniel Passarella, Americo Gallego, Alberto Tarentini, and Jose Daniel Valencia to a championship in the third Toulon Tournament. Three years later, those four players were a part of the Argentina side that won the 1978 FIFA World Cup. Following the win, Menotti recalled Toulon as being a fundamental piece of the players’ development that led to their victory, and hence, le lieu où naissent les étoiles.
In the 40 years since, many of the biggest and most renowned footballers have made their mark in Toulon, and the tournament has proven to be a foreshadower of what’s to come in international play. In 2011, Colombian striker James Rodriguez earned honors as the Toulon Player of the Tournament. Three summers later, Rodriguez burst onto the scene and won the Golden Boot at the 2014 FIFA World cup after scoring six goals in five games.
Other international footballers who have also gained experience in the Toulon Tournament include: Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer, Javier Mascherano, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Nuno Gomes, Rui Costa and many more.
The U.S. was in Toulon for the tournament in 2013, competing with its U-20 MNT and taking seventh place. Their best finish in Toulon history dates back to 1989, when the team took third place behind Bulgaria and champion France.
This year the U-23’s will try to best that finish. To do that, they will have to navigate through group play matchups with France on May 27, Netherlands on May 29, Costa Rica on May 31 and Qatar on June 2.