Friendship Cup soccer tourney finds a home: Great Park in Irvine

For the past 27 years, a soccer tournament called the International Friendship Cup of Iran never really had a home, moving from UC San Diego to UCLA and Cal State Fullerton fields.

But, tournament director Hosane Zama, a Costa Mesa resident, believes his big tournament may have found a home at the Great Park in Irvine.

Zama, also known as the guy who provides the colorful T-shirts for cheap for the Daily Pilot Cup, is excited about the 27th annual Friendship Cup. He was smiling Saturday morning at the Great Park as he introduced dignitaries and former elite players from Iran to provide more attention to the tournament that began with 12 teams.

Now, this year there are 42 teams. Of course, Zama was smiling.

The tournament is made up of three divisions: Open; age 40 and over; and age 50 and over.

Zama conducted a short ceremony to start the three-day tournament. He introduced former Iranian pro players Karim Bagheri and Abdul Mallahzadeh, as well as Omid Namazi, who is now a assistant coach with the U.S. women's national soccer team.

Zama, and Newport Beach councilman Keith Curry and Great Park chair Christina Shea, presented flowers for Bagheri, Mallahzadeh and Namazi. Then, Zama gave flowers to Shea, saying, "Every pretty lady should get pretty flowers."

Every big tournament should have a home, too. It appears the Friendship Cup and Zama just might have found one on the plush fields at the Great Park.

While the teams registered at a tent nearby, Shea and Zama talked about how the local economy can receive a boost with all the visitors in town. The majority of players, coming from all over the world, including Iran, are staying at the Irvine Hilton.

"This is a fun tournament," Zama says. "The guys who play in it want to come again and play in it again and again."

One year, the tournament featured 58 teams. Next year, the tournament might reach its highest number, as there are plans for at least 60.

Shea said she was happy to be a part of the ceremony Saturday morning. She believes tournaments like the Friendship Cup can give more life to the Great Park.

Shea also liked the name of the tournament.

Zama takes great pride in the tournament. He adds to the friendly, family-type atmosphere as he usually calls everyone, "Brother."

He's planning for the tournament to be friendly and competitive, and also planning for it to be bigger next year.

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