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Local soccer fans excited about World Cup

NATCHEZ — The largest sporting event in the world begins today, and some local fans are hoping that the popularity spreads to the United States.

The FIFA World Cup begins this morning when South Africa faces off against Mexico, but the game American fans are waiting for is Saturday’s match-up between the United States and England.

Natchez High soccer coach Dennis Hogue said that game alone could do wonders for the popularity of soccer in America.

“It’s a no-brainer, if they can make it through the group and continue winning, that alone will be huge for soccer in America,” Hogue said. “For them to perform well would be just fantastic for bringing the sport around.”

Each of the 32 teams in the World Cup are divided into four-team pools. Two teams from each group advance to the round of 16 after three games of pool play.

The remaining rounds are single elimination.

The United States is in a group with England, Algeria and Slovenia, and the excitement surrounding the national team is unlike that in past World Cups.

Kenneth Stubbs, who announced soccer games for Cathedral, said the excitement is caused by the improvement of the U.S. national team.

“They have made great strides,” Stubbs said. “Just look back 20 years and the U.S. wasn’t even thought of as a competitor. We’re still a long way from being a top team, but we’re competitive now.”

And that competitiveness is helping the sport catch up to more established sports in America, Stubbs said.

“More people accept and understand the game now,” Stubbs said. “It’s slowly catching on, which is kind of what we thought it would do over the years. It’s a slow process because we’re so connected with so many other big sports, but as the youth pick it up, more people understand it.”

Hogue said soccer should be appealing for more youth because of its team concepts.

“I think more people are realizing that soccer is the ultimate team sport,” Hogue said. “There is no quarterback or running back star on the team. No one can dunk. Everybody has to work together. Soccer is a great sport to put kids in because they get to learn the true concept of teamwork.”

Stubbs said the growth of soccer in America in the past two decades is exciting, and he hopes to see the sport continue to grow after the 2010 World Cup has concluded.

“It’s thrilling to see the kind of interest in the sport when young people come along and like it and devote time and energy to get good at it,” Stubbs said. “The national publicity (the U.S. national team) gets, the young people see that and see that it’s worth devoting some effort to it.”