U.S. making believers of soccer fans in area

June 24, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

When the header goal by Alexi Lalas was disallowed, Cory Piette and his father screamed louder than they ever have at the Italian or English games cable TV brought them.

After the Milwaukee Brewers had an eight-run second inning, Joey Bryson moved to the back of the skybox at Camden Yards and instead kept tabs on Tab Ramos.

Sam Mangione is the proud father of a newborn, but he played pass-the-baby when Eric Wynalda grazed the right post with a shot.

On the other side of the World Cup fence, meanwhile, Juan Garcia shook his head over the developments at the Rose Bowl on Wednesday night. Garcia was born in Colombia, so he didn't celebrate the United States' 2-1 victory over that international power.

Whether accompanied by sorrow or joy, disbelief was the predominant feeling for several of the area's more rabid soccer fans yesterday, as they contemplated the greatest win ever for the U.S. team.

"I've been ragged here today nonstop," said Garcia, a senior-to-be at St. Paul's School who had predicted a Colombian victory to fellow counselors and the youngsters they're leading at a camp at Friends School. "Last night was pretty tense in our household. You don't know the passion we have for soccer."

Garcia, who was born in Medellin and came to the United States at 2, is entering his third season of varsity soccer at St. Paul's. In 1990, he and a brother spent a family vacation to Finland holed up in a hotel room in Helsinki, watching World Cup telecasts from Italy.

Bryson, 14, is a camper at Friends this week. When asked his soccer heroes, Italian striker Roberto Baggio is the first name he mentioned, but he then added Cobi Jones. He's warming to the Americans.

"Around the third inning at Camden Yards [Wednesday], the scoreboard flashed that the U.S. was beating Colombia 1-0," Bryson said. "I moved to the back of the skybox and watched more World Cup than baseball. This is getting exciting."

Piette, 15 and a junior-to-be at Centennial High, is a knowledgeable fan who sounds ready for an analyst's position at ESPN. He's a midfielder on the Columbia Darby, the state's premier under-16 team, and his knowledge has grown through the dozens of broadcasts of foreign games he's watched with his father.

"My favorite team has always been Brazil, and my favorite players are Rai and Romario," Piette said. "On our team, a lot of guys are for Germany, Italy, Brazil and Colombia, but Tony Marchegiano said the U.S. was going to beat Colombia. He wouldn't bet anyone, though.

"I want to see the U.S. win, but I didn't think they had a chance. I'm surprised they're doing so well, but it's not like 18 million kids are going to stop playing soccer if they had lost. In 1990, few people knew about the World Cup. This time, even my friends who don't play are asking me if I saw this goal or that one. It's great."

Piette won't be able to use his ticket for the round-of-16 match that will be played at RFK Stadium July 2, because he'll be at a regional tournament in New Jersey.

Mangione, however, has tickets to every game at RFK, and the prospect of the United States coming there as the No. 2 team out of Group A is something the former Loyola College standout didn't seriously consider until Wednesday night.

"I've had acquaintances who are not necessarily soccer fans say the U.S. beating Colombia was one of the most exciting sports events they'd ever seen," said Mangione, 28. "I know I couldn't contain myself. I had my 3-month-old daughter in my lap when Wynalda hit the post, but I had to pass her to my wife because I was going crazy."

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