World Cup did have impact, but it was subtle one

October 04, 1994|By BILL TANTON

Soccer's World Cup, it seemed to me, had come to America and disappeared -- poof! -- leaving hardly a footprint.

Could it be that hosting the world's biggest sports event had almost no effect on soccer in the United States?

Could all those TV hours of World Cup competition, plus the nearly countless column inches of print media coverage, have failed to produce carryover interest in the game?

It looked that way to me.

Almost since the day the U.S. team was eliminated by Brazil -- and certainly since Brazil won the Cup -- I had heard no more mention of soccer than usual.

That was my fault. Sometimes you have to look for things, even when they're right before your eyes.

Last Saturday I watched the Johns Hopkins soccer team upset previously undefeated, 10th-ranked Muhlenberg, 2-1. Both Hopkins goals were scored by an exciting freshman named Eric West.

When there's no baseball being played, and when Maryland's football team is being shut out at Clemson and Navy's is once again embarrassing itself in Annapolis, a sports fan might show up in a lot of places he's not accustomed to.

At one point late in the soccer game a Hopkins player executed a difficult maneuver. From the bench, there were cries that sounded like "Rain-ya, Rain-ya."

"Oh, sure," explained Hopkins coach Matt Smith afterward. "That was a move our players had seen by Claudio Reyna [pronounced Rain-ya], the University of Virginia kid who played World Cup for the U.S."

Reyna, who had played for Virginia's NCAA champions, is now a professional soccer player in Germany. Through World Cup exposure, he has become a model for young players. When they call "Reyna" to a teammate, it's a compliment.

"It's a small thing," said Smith, "but it shows that the kids were watching World Cup and picking up little things."

For the past six years, Smith, a Towson State grad, has coached in the Maryland Olympic Development program.

"Having the World Cup here definitely made an impact on young players," Smith said. "What it did was open things up for U.S. kids.

"They see our country beat Colombia, which we had never done, and it shows them that we can play this game.

"They see Reyna. They see Lallas [Alexi Lallas, the goateed American defender] playing in Italy now and making big money. They feel that maybe they can do the same thing. That's what World Cup really accomplished here."

The dean of Baltimore's high school soccer coaches is Bill Karpovich, who is in his 28th year at Calvert Hall.

"We didn't need World Cup to get kids playing soccer," said Karpovich, whose 7-1-2 team played McDonogh today and entertains Gilman Thursday. "We've had large numbers of kids for many years.

"What World Cup did was improve skills. The kids picked up a lot of skills from watching the best players in the world.

"Soccer is a beautiful game and it's going to get better and better. The referees were stringent at the World Cup and that allowed the players to play the game beautifully. I hope we can get the high school refs to call the game in that fashion."

Karpovich says the exposure of soccer through the World Cup here may be contributing to the big crowds at high school games this season.

"We had 1,000 people for our game at C. Milton Wright," he said. "Last Thursday afternoon we had 1,500 at Calvert Hall for our game with Curley. [Curley won, 2-1.] People said we should have charged $2 and picked up $3,000 for the school, but soccer people aren't used to paying."

Coach Bill Sento's Loyola College soccer team is 8-1-2 after beating Clemson, 1-0, in the South Carolina school's tournament Sunday. Last year the Greyhounds were 19-3-1.

The athletic director at Loyola, Joe Boylan, is best known as a basketball man, but Boylan was a soccer goalie in his undergraduate days at Lafayette. He enjoys soccer and keeps a close eye on it.

"I think the World Cup increased interest in soccer here," Boylan said. "Our team draws large crowds. The numbers were up at our soccer camps.

"The question is, how long will it last? I think soccer made a big mistake by not announcing the day after the World Cup the formation of a professional league. They haven't announced that yet."

Matt Smith at Hopkins agreed.

"It'll help a lot when we get a good, pro outdoor league," Smith said.

So, in the eyes of the people who are involved with soccer every day, the World Cup did produce a carryover benefit.

"We are a scoring society in America," said Joe Boylan. "Soccer doesn't have enough scoring to please the masses. One thing they might do is increase the size of the goal a little bit. The goal we have now was designed for people who were 5 feet 5."

More scoring would help a lot of things. Hopkins, which plays host to Dickenson tonight, already has played three ties.

That can't be very satisfactory for anybody.

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