Peninsula high school stars hope World Cup run helps soccer's popularity

SportsTelevisionFIFA World CupEntertainmentMass MediaArts and CultureAbby Wambach

When Briana Scurry stuffed that penalty kick and Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey, it was the summer of 1999. Brittany Hammons was 6 years old, but she remembers.

This year's run, which has the United States women in Sunday's World Cup final against Japan, has been thrilling. She loves seeing her country excel in her sport on a global stage. And she loves the attention soccer is getting, even if she understands some of it is fleeting.

"I definitely think it's helping," said Hammons, a Grafton graduate who helped lead the East's 3-2 win in Wednesday night's VHSCA All-Star game. "Guys sometimes are like, 'Oh, it's just a girls team.' It brings your motivation down sometimes.

"But for this tournament, everybody on Facebook, all the guys are saying, 'This makes me want to watch soccer more.' Hopefully it will pick the sport up."

Cox's Jessie Klamut, who scored the game winner Wednesday night, sees the rise.

"I hear so many more people talking about watching it," she said. "Guys who say they've never watched it before are even watching it now. I think it's getting known more."

Hammons and Klamut were two of some 50 all-star soccer players — from the East and West, female and male — who crammed into a TV room at Hampton University to watch Wednesday's 3-1 win over France. There were collective groans when France tied the game. There were collective cheers when Abby Wambach's header in the 79th minute broke the tie.

"Did everybody go nuts?" Jamestown's Sherlanda Buskey said. "It was beyond nuts."

U.S. soccer has had waves of popularity before. In '99, with the women's World Cup on home turf, the U.S. was riding high. A crowd of 90,185, the largest ever to watch a women's sporting event, packed the Rose Bowl to watch the U.S. beat China on penalty kicks.

Scurry became a hero by tuning back a PK. Chastain clinched it with her PK and then struck what became an iconic pose by dropping to her knees and clenching her jersey in her right fist.

That team had star power — Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy, etc. The whole group made the cover of Sports Illustrated under the banner "Sportswomen of the Year."

In 2010, it was the men's turn. Landon Donovan's dramatic goal against Algeria sent the U.S. to the knockout round. The final between Spain and the Netherlands drew 24 million television viewers in the United States.

And now, the women are making headlines again. Wambach has been the ultimate clutch player. Keeper Hope Solo has become a household name.

"When people see their own country winning," Klamut said, "they get really excited."

The guys like it, too. Whatever gets their sport noticed.

"Everyone across America right now is following soccer, especially after the comeback win over Brazil," said Jamestown's Patrick O'Brien, the Daily Press boys player of the year. "It's great to see that support. I mean, it's bandwagon, I guess, but people are now following it. It's great to see soccer catching on."

"If it has to be bandwagon to get people interested in it, I'll take it," Grafton's Jalon Brown said. "When I was younger, soccer was such a tiny thought for everybody. There was no crowd for it. But now, it's a lot bigger and a lot more comfortable. I love it."

As for watching it together on that small TV Wednesday afternoon, they'll all remember it.

"It was great to see everyone's reaction," Brown said. "When France scored, everyone was like, 'No!!' But when the US scored, everybody was like 'Yeah!!!' It was really loud and a lot of fun. Everyone just stood up and went crazy."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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