By Bob Narang

Since 2003, the PepsiCo Showdown has inspired a myriad of memories for the estimated 50,000-plus kids who have participated in the largest high school soccer tournament in the country. Odds are that will be the same again in April, when the PepsiCo Showdown Girls kicks off throughout Chicago and Northern Illinois.

For every boy or girl, there’s been a different positive memory from the excitement of competing in a massive tournament that features the top competition from the Chicago area, exposure to college recruiters, a full-length poster of key individuals and a charitable side that many participants deem more meaningful — in the game of life — than even the top-flight games.

Carly Klein, a former goalie at Jones Prep who attends Pratt University in Brooklyn, noted that the event showed her a different side to soccer and people.

“As a student who played in the city, I only knew the schools around me,” Klein said. “The PepsiCo Showdown allowed me to meet new people from schools that I would have never met otherwise. I loved being able to come to the tournament with my team and represent my schools, plus playing teams as passionate and competitive as ours.”

Former Crete-Monee standout Sydney Kent said the high-profile boys and girls tourney not only created lifelong memories, but lifelong friends.

“I loved that the PepsiCo Showdown gave student athletes the opportunity to have exposure to different college coaches and play teams that they wouldn’t normally,” she said. “At the media day (session), I met so many amazing people that I’m still friends with.”

Brandon Gorka, who played at Crystal Lake South and attends Judson University, mentioned the competitive nature of the tournament for helping him grow as a player.

“It provided a great atmosphere to play in,” Gorka said. “It was good competition and a chance to be scouted. I caught the eye of a few (colleges). The competition is good and forces your team to come together in a critical part of the season.”

Former St. Edward all-state forward AJ Franklin, a freshman soccer player at Marquette, noted how the tourney allowed him to dream big.

“It was a really awesome experience to try and get your name out to college coaches,” he said.

Jenny Felix, a Waukegan graduate, was among the 100s of athletes able to parlay participating in the tourney into an opportunity to play in college.

“Because of the tournament, I had coaches keep any eye on me, so they contacted me to get a chance to play for their school,” Felix said, a Heartland Community College soccer player.

Plainfield Central graduate Amanda Arnold praised the community aspect of the tournament, which involves giving items, such as clothing, to people of need.

“I love how the tournament has a focus on giving back to the community,” she said. “It really makes the players fall in love with the game in a different way.”

Yesenia Luna, a former player at Back of the Yards College Prep, said the tourney was an ideal way to bond before the playoffs.

“The PepsiCo Showdown got my team to bond more than usual,” Luna said. “It was also amazing how we were able to play against schools out of our area.”

Karis Mele said playing for Plainfield South in the tourney was a great experience, noting it was always a favorite to compete against talented teams in a big venue and become more involved in surrounding communities.

“One thing that I loved about the tourney was we were able to play so many different teams from all over instead of playing teams within our conference,” Mele said. “I also loved that even though we were opponents on the field, off the field everyone’s goal was the same: To become one off the field and be able to make a difference in the lives around us.”

Angela Moore, a former Maine South standout and currently a club soccer player at DePaul, also noted playing against elite competition and contributing in a charitable way as her fondest moments of playing in the PepsiCo Showdown. 

“I always looked forward to the PepsiCo Showdown,” she said. “Playing against super competitive teams was a lot of fun, and we always learned more about each other and about our team as a whole. I loved the fact that PepsiCo allowed us a chance to work together as well, not only on the field but off the field as well to give back to our communities.”

Contact Bob Narang at 

Bio on reporter: Bob Narang has been covering prep sports for the past 22 years. His work also appears in the Chicago Tribune, Athlon Sports and the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.