Columbia resident John Ellinger has been more than your average flag-waving, chanting soccer spectator during the first two World Cup tournament games at RFK Stadium, Sunday and last night.
Mr. Ellinger, the director of coaching for the Soccer Association of Columbia, has been assigned by U.S. Soccer, the country's governing body for the sport, as one of two officials to compile technical reports on the five games at RFK Stadium through July 2.
In that role, the Long Reach village resident is dissecting player formations on the field, styles of play and goal-attacking and defending strategies used by Norway, Mexico, Netherlands and Saudi Arabia in order to prepare strategic reports for U.S. Soccer.
"I'm trying to look at different styles of play in other countries to see if it can help in the process of determining our style," said Mr. Ellinger, 42, who has coached soccer on the youth, high school, collegiate, national and professional levels for 21 years. "Is there an American style, what is it, and can we improve it?"
Mr. Ellinger works for U.S. Soccer as the coach of the U.S. National Men's "B" Team, a developmental squad that was too young for the 1992 Olympics.
U.S. Soccer assigned two national coaches to each of the nine World Cup venues.
Mr. Ellinger said he hopes the RFK games bring back some of the excitement he felt when he attended West Germany's victory over Argentina in the 1990 championship game in Rome, Italy.
"Everybody else has that passion for the game," he said. "We just don't see that atmosphere here. We see it for other sports. I get enthusiastic when I see the crowds, chanting and waving flags."
Columbia is an exception to much of the rest of the country because of its enthusiasm for soccer, Mr. Ellinger said.
About 4,000 young people participate in Soccer Association of Columbia teams, and Howard County high schools traditionally are state powers and draw large crowds.
"It's nice to see," he said. "This is one community that's taken it seriously."
James Carlan, travel team coordinator for the Soccer Association of Columbia, said the organization is "extremely lucky" to have Mr. Ellinger to help develop local talent as the director of coaching, one of two paid positions.
"He's really among the first generation of U.S.-grown talent to come through," said Mr. Carlan. "He's got an in-depth knowledge of the game and he imparts that."
Mr. Carlan said Mr. Ellinger can work as closely with coaches who have little experience as with those who have an extensive background in the sport.
Mr. Ellinger switched from American-style football to soccer as a junior at Peary High School in Montgomery County, and has been involved with the sport ever since. He was a midfielder at Frostburg State University from 1969 to 1972, then coached at Sherwood High School in Montgomery County for five years.
He moved to the collegiate level in the late 1970s, coaching for two years at Montgomery College and for 10 years at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
A short-lived stint as coach of the Washington Diplomats in the now-defunct American Professional Soccer League ended after six games in 1989 because of differences with the team's owner, he said.
At RFK Stadium, Mr. Ellinger will be able to compile only part of his reports by watching the games from the press box because the action is too fast to accurately chart the game's intricate movements and to track how scoring opportunities were created.
To supplement that first-hand view, he will watch and rewatch tapes of each game and interview coaches from the four other countries to learn more about the philosophies they employ.
"It's a great opportunity. You're right in the thick of it, talking to coaches, going to post-game interviews," said Mr. Ellinger, who works as athletic director and physical education teacher at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville. "It's quite an honor to serve in that capacity."