Du Burns squad tries for world honors

5-on-5 team in S. Korea after winning U.S. title



Having amassed a 33-game winning streak in five tournaments since December, an amateur soccer team representing Baltimore's Du Burns Arena is in South Korea, competing for the United States in the Hyundai Cup world five-on-five outdoor championships.

Team Du Burns earned the right to play in the outdoor tournament sponsored by the carmaker by winning a 16-team national tournament April 29 in San Jose, Calif.

The seven-member team, which plays most of its games indoors at Baltimore's Du Burns Arena in Canton, is made up of former semipro and college players who have known each a long time and who play often.

"Twice a night - four, five, six days a week, if possible," said Scott Zakroski, who played at Patterson High School and for the Baltimore Bays, as did goalie Mike Valcourt.

The team wasn't formed by tryouts or interviews, said coach Keith Mayr. Instead, players have chosen somebody they know to fill vacancies. The result is a cohesiveness that has contributed to the team's wins. All but two also were on a squad that in February won an unrelated U.S. national indoor tournament in Columbus, Ohio.

Off-field, players finish each other's sentences. All have nicknames. On-field, the players appear to instinctively know where teammates are. Glances and, sometimes, simple phrases, such as "Goin' now," are all the players need to communicate during games. Defense is a hallmark.

P. J. Wakefield played at UMBC, and Marco Angelini plans to transfer from Community College of Baltimore County-Essex to UMBC next fall. Billy Reinhardt and Pat Crawford both played in the defunct Eastern Indoor Soccer League for the Tallahassee Scorpions.

At 31, Reinhardt is the team's oldest player - nicknamed "Streaks" for his few gray hairs. He skipped around professionally, stopping at Baltimore, Harrisburg and Chicago. Tony Tamanini starred at Villa Julie, and Valcourt played at CCBC-Catonsville and for the indoor Bays.

Although the players emphasize team honors over individual exploits, Wakefield scored most of Du Burns' goals in San Jose. The former Calvert Hall player just graduated from UMBC, where he was an All Northeast Conference midfielder. In March, he was drafted by the Baltimore Blast and, if he makes the pro team, will no longer play for Du Burns.

Players say the Baltimore team got little respect, first, in a regional tournament in York, Pa., and then in San Jose but outscored opponents by 164-34 during the 33-game winning streak.

"I saw that there was this team [that] was beating everyone, and then I saw the players for the first time," said Jason Rostovskis, a Philadelphia player whose team lost to Du Burns. "My reaction was, `It can't be those guys. ... In soccer, there is a bravado or swagger the best players have, which is really a false front. The Du Burns guys don't have that attitude. Many people see that as a weakness."

When not playing at Du Burns Arena, the team pursues other competition; right now, that means an open league at Perring Athletic Club under the name Ballantine's Finest, for a sponsor.

Said Reinhardt: "We win because we stick together. We play as one team, not five players, on the field."

The players' wives, families, and girlfriends come to as many games as possible, including those in California. The whole group went to San Francisco to sightsee. They sponsor fund-raisers. They were also prepared to travel to South Korea, but Hyundai restricted attendance to players because of the crowds drawn to Seoul for the 11-a-side, real World Cup.

Not even Du Burns' coach, Mayr, was allowed to go. But he said he understood - "There just aren't enough tickets and rooms to go around."

Du Burns was to begin competition by today in a single-elimination tournament that saw Hyundai pick up air fares for all players. The competition included entries from Russia, China, England, Chile, Brazil, Spain, Australia, South Korea and Japan - survivors from teams in 180 nations that began the competition.

As the U.S. five-on-five champions, the players expect little respect from their international opponents.

"We know what we are going up against. We know America's reputation," said Wakefield, referring to the 1998 World Cup in which the U.S. men's team finished last.

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