Team USA captivates locals

Tish Venturini-Hoch spent Wednesday morning in front of the television watching her favorite soccer team with family. It's a much different view now on, what she calls, "the other side."

Venturini-Hoch, a Costa Mesa resident, played for the U.S. women's soccer team in 1999 when the Americans won the World Cup. She enjoyed the high-spirited atmosphere and huge support then. She's also taking pleasure as a fan now.

"I'm having a ball watching this team," Venturini-Hoch said Wednesday after Team USA defeated France, 3-1, to advance to Sunday's World Cup final. "What a great group of girls. It's fun to see on the other side of the tilt, just a common folk. It's been great."

Venturini-Hoch is one of many Newport-Mesa residents who have been swept away by the U.S. women's team, which pulled off an amazing come-from-behind victory over Brazil in the quarterfinals Sunday. Team USA trailed, 2-1, before Abby Wambach headed in a goal in the 122nd minute. The Americans then won on penalty kicks, 5-3.

"For them to dig that out, that's the most incredible game I've ever seen," Venturini-Hoch said. "What an amazing game that was. They got some bad calls, but they just kept fighting. Abby is just a warrior."

Venturini-Hoch watched Sunday's game at her home, where she lives with her husband, Casey. They have a son, Cooper, 7, and daughter, Sadie, 4.

Tuesday she was with more family in Modesto, where she grew up. She plans to watch Sunday's final in Modesto.

So many others are making plans to watch the championship match. Jessica Gatica, the Estancia High girls' soccer coach, has blocked off time during her bachelorette party in San Diego so that she'll be able to watch the final.

She's marrying Jeff Perry, the Eagles' activities director. He should know by now Gatica's passion for the game.

"I'm super stoked," said Gatica, also the Estancia girls' athletic director. "It's such a great time."

Gatica has been training with her girls' soccer team during the summer. Instead of working out Wednesday, she took the squad to a pizza place in Huntington Beach to watch the semifinal match.

"I think this has put [women's soccer] back on the map," Gatica said. "Tons of kids have played soccer, but something like this just brings back the popularity and exposure. It's the most popular sport in the world. More and more people are coming to it here. For a lot of us who are soccer fans, this means so much to us."

Gatica has a slight connection to the U.S. women's team. As an assistant at Mater Dei, she coached against Santa Margarita, which featured Amy Rodriguez, now on the national team. Estancia assistant coach Kelly Wherry, a Costa Mesa resident who played at Mater Dei, competed against Rodriguez.

Corona del Mar High girls' soccer coach Bryan Middleton is also familiar with a national team player, Shannon Boxx. Four years ago, Boxx trained with the Sea Kings for a day.

Watching the Americans' run in the World Cup has given Middleton inspiration and he instructs his players to pay attention to the effort.

"The [CdM] girls can see the resiliency on that team," Middleton said. "The lesson that can be learned is that you play till the final whistle. Never give up."

Middleton raced home after practicing with his team Wednesday morning to go watch the game that he saved on his digital video recorder. On the way to his car he saw recent CdM graduate Lindsey Luke and told her not to say anything about the game.

Luke, the Daily Pilot Girls' Soccer Dream Team Player of the Year, was running on the CdM track, preparing for her upcoming season at Wake Forest. After watching Wednesday's win, Luke knew she had to get out of bed. She wanted to lay out and catch some rays, but instead she took to the track.

"It gave me the chills," Luke said of watching Team USA. "They are playing on the biggest stage for women's soccer. It's insane that they have this opportunity. It motivates me. After watching it, it gave me that extra push."

Luke, who plays goalie, has been enthralled with Hope Solo's performance throughout the World Cup.

"She's amazing," Luke said. "She has everything a goalkeeper has to have. She's so confident. You have to be like that. As a leader for the team, she comes up when she needs to. It just motivates me. It makes me want to work harder."

Solo stepped up against an aggressive French squad that outplayed the U.S. team for the most part

"We won, but this was a very disappointing win," said Kirk McIntosh, the Daily Pilot Cup director and an avid soccer fan. "We played terrible … The French just didn't finish. When we got that second goal from Wambach, on another header, it changed the whole game and all of a sudden the French were vulnerable."

McIntosh has noticed the buzz for the women's soccer team. And as a coach of a youth soccer team, he has enjoyed the excitement shown by his players.

"The little girls are all excited," said McIntosh, a lawyer who coaches a Newport Beach-based Slammers FC under-9 team. "Everyone loves Abby Wambach."

McIntosh is quick to remind his players that they should not forget Megan Rapinoe, who delivered the sensational cross on the momentous tying goal.

Slammers FC is not the only club riding the soccer buzz. The Newport Mesa Soccer Club has also been wrapped up in World Cup madness. They've also used Team USA as an example for its players.

"Watching that game on Sunday against Brazil and seeing that result, never die and never quit, really sends a big message," said Josh Brooks, assistant director of NMSC. "It's not only on the women's side, but even as a man you can really appreciate what's going on. It was an absolutely tremendous game against Brazil."

Venturini-Hoch said this U.S. team's popularity has become similar to the 1999 team. The only difference is that the 1999 World Cup champions benefited from playing in the U.S., but this year's squad is in Moenchengladbach, Germany.

"It was just a whirlwind," Venturini-Hoch said of the 1999 World Cup run. "We were like turning into the Beatles in those three weeks. The stadiums were sold out … people were coming out in droves. They were crowding our hotels."

Venturini-Hoch believes Team USA can beat Japan Sunday.

"They're going to do it," she said. "It's great for women's sports."


EDITOR’S NOTE: Tish Venturini-Hoch, a Costa Mesa resident and a member of the 1999 U.S. women’s World Cup championship team, has agreed to write her thoughts on Sunday’s World Cup final. Her story will appear in Tuesday’s edition.

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