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Soccer making a comeback in U.S.

By Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / March 12, 1998

Soccer is the world’s most popular sport, played in almost every corner ofthe world. Every four years, millions of people around the globe follow thepremier event of the sport, the World Cup.For years, however, the United States had a ho hum approach to the sport.

Part of that disinterest can be traced back to the early 1930s. In theRoaring 20’s, soccer was an up and coming sport in this country and wasready to be showcased at the Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles in1932. The sport was not included on the Games’ schedule, however, andinterest in soccer began to decline. Soccer had a resurgence again in the1970s when Pele joined the New York Cosmos of the NASL, but interestwaned after his retirement.

Soccer has again made a comeback in recent years, however. The UnitedStates hosted the World Cup in 1994 and upset Colombia during thetournament. The Americans won the inaugural women’s World Cup earlierin the decade and captured the first-ever Olympic gold medal awarded inwomen’s soccer in Atlanta in 1996. “Soccer moms” was a buzz word in the1996 Presidential election. In recent weeks, the American soccer squadscored what was perhaps the biggest victory in its history by defeatingpowerhouse Brazil.

Soccer is also on the rise in the Louisiana. Last Thursday, over 3,500 fanswatched the New Orleans Storm tie the defending Major League Soccerchampion D.C. United at Zephyr Field. The A-League Storm, who played inNew Orleans last season as the Gamblers, have moved out to Metairie andare looking to have the success that the Zephyrs had a year ago.

On the high school level, new teams are forming every year. Here in theRiver Parishes, Hahnville, Destrehan, St. Charles Catholic and East St. Johnhave boys’ teams and Hahnville and Destrehan have girls squads. Hahnvilleand St. Charles Catholic made the boys’ state playoffs this season, withthe Tigers advancing to the quarterfinals. The girls’ teams at Hahnvilleand Destrehan made the girls’ playoffs, with the Lady Tigers, in just theirsecond year of existence, advancing to the semifinals.Sam Snow, a National Staff coach for U.S. Soccer, was the guest speakerThursday night as Hahnville held its annual soccer awards ceremony. Snowtalked about the growth of the sport and how the Louisiana High SchoolAthletic Association is beginning to take more notice of it.

Snow said he would like to see every high school coach have at least theminimum level of coaching certification. He also said the sport needs todo a better job of marketing itself and one way to do that is to have a setsite for its championships like football. That way, the championship gamecan be marketed throughout the season and coaches from colleges aroundthe country can attend.

Snow also recommended making better uses of high school players asassistant coaches. He advised players to attend coaching clinics, not onlyto learn about coaching but also to increase their knowledge of the game.

Snow also talked about U.S. Soccer’s Olympic Development Program thatgives players an opportunity to play at the highest level of soccer fortheir age group. The ODP is designed to find the highest skilled players inthe country to play for the U.S. In international competition. And whileless them 1/10 of one percent will get the chance to play internationally,Snow said everyone who plays the sport should at least try out.

“All 15 million players in the country should shoot for the top of thepyramid,” Snow said. “If you don’t make it, you still land at a higher levelof play.”

Snow said the opportunity now to play soccer after high school isunprecedented. Besides the MSL and A-League, there is the semipro USISLand indoor soccer for men. This past year, the Lafayette Swamp Catsdefeated the Baton Rouge Bombers for the Eastern Indoor Soccer Leaguechampionship.

For women, there is a new professional league forming as well as thesemipro W League. And at the adult level, there are a number of over 30,40 and 50 leagues.

If recent events are any indication, this recent growth in soccer should bearound to stay this time.

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