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VOL. 129 | NO. 115 | Friday, June 13, 2014

 

US Slower to Embrace Fanaticism of World’s Game

By Don Wade

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Andy Marcinko has been to every World Cup since 1986, and he will be in Brazil for a good two weeks of the 2014 World Cup.

United States’ Clint Dempsey (8) takes a shot on goal as he is defended by Nigeria’s Efe Ambrose, center, as Joseph Yobo (2) looks on during the recent World Cup tuneup. Dempsey’s play will be vital if the U.S. hopes to advance past the group stages.

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

But the Rhodes College men’s soccer coach didn’t have to go beyond his own soccer camps to start putting on his game face.

“I’m 55,” Marcinko said, “so I’ve watched this develop. And I was stunned this year with 7- to 12-year-olds and their awareness. Not just that it was World Cup time, but they knew players and not just American players. One kid wore a Ghana jersey. You don’t have to explain what World Cup is. They know.”

Is America finally embracing the world’s game? Embracing might be too strong of a word, but welcoming might not be – at least not for this generation of young soccer players with 20- and 30-something parents.

“They’re much more aware than 20 years ago,” Marcinko said. “Of course, most of their parents grew up with the sport. One of the kids even knew (Frank) Lampard was leaving Chelsea, and that was just announced. We even had opinions about Landon Donovan not making the (U.S.) team.”

Richard Mulrooney, 37, the first-year men’s soccer coach at the University of Memphis, played on the U.S. National Team with Donovan, but not in the World Cup. Mulrooney was among the final cuts for the 2002 team that reached the quarterfinals.

“I was close friends with a bunch of those guys and I was up at 3 o’clock in the morning watching,” Mulrooney said. “No regrets. You want to represent your country as best you can. It’s an honor. I’ve got nothing but great memories.”

The accompanying patriotism of the United States playing in the World Cup is a given. Even soccer haters will gather around TVs if the games are good enough and cheer for Team USA.

Paul Furlong, who is originally from London and is president of the Collierville Soccer Association, is encouraged that more kids who play the game competitively are watching soccer. But there is still a ways to go. World Cup, after all, only comes around every four years.

“Unfortunately, most of the players don’t watch enough top-class soccer,” Furlong said. “We don’t have a professional team in Memphis or anywhere close by. When they go home, they’re more likely to watch a baseball game on TV than soccer.”

Two Team USA supporters celebrate before the start of the South Korea versus U.S. 2002 World Cup Group game at the Daegu World Cup Stadium in Daegu, South Korea. The U.S. men’s team had its most successful run in the World Cup, losing in the quarterfinals.

(AP Photo/Aris Messinis)

But probably not for the next month. Furlong says a lot of players will be going to a Collierville-area restaurant for watch parties during U.S. games. Furlong will migrate to Celtic Crossing for games, at least those involving the mother country. The Brass Door, downtown, will also be packed with hardcore fans.

Marcinko said the matches he will see in Brazil include the U.S. vs. Ghana and Italy vs. England.

“It’s kind of like the Super Bowl every day for a month and it gets better every day for a month,” he said.

Mulrooney believes the success of the 2002 U.S. World Cup team helped pro soccer in the United States. There was enough buzz that U.S. players were showing up on Leno and Letterman and the carryover even helped increase salaries and sponsorship in the MLS, where Mulrooney played for more than a decade.

And that particular World Cup perhaps helped grow the game on fields all across America.

“I think World Cup has a big effect,” Mulrooney said. “If the team doesn’t do well, like ’98 in France, it can be a push-off for kids.”

Short of Team USA making a deep run, Mulrooney believes the sport would most benefit from an individual player having a great tournament and reaching iconic, one-name status.

“Dempsey,” he said referring to team captain Clint Dempsey. “That’s the next step.”

Meanwhile, Furlong has an American friend who’s going to be in London during the World Cup.

“He asked me what he should do, where he should go, when England plays,” Furlong said. “It doesn’t matter. The whole country will shut down. The only thing that will be open will be the pubs. It’s like the SEC football culture over there.”

Only with better accents.

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