Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

July 4, 2014

Elements in place for continued growth of U.S. soccer

EAST RIVER — The survival of the United States soccer side into the final 16 teams vying for the World Cup produced some of the most-watched series of soccer broadcasts in American history, and elevated domestic publicity for the “beautiful game” to new heights, at least temporarily.

At East River Soccer Complex, the home field of this area’s Premier Development League team, the Southern West Virginia King’s Warriors, the head coach sees that success — and many other indicators — as very encouraging.

“The results that we’ve been able to put together against very good teams are indicative, I think, of the reality that soccer’s here to stay in America,” said Scott Reitnour after practice earlier this week.

Gideon Asante, one of the team’s points leaders, said that soccer in the United States is “getting bigger and bigger. ... Soccer is not the No. 1 sport, but I think soccer is gaining a little bit of attention.”

He said, “I think it’s going to make it big in this country. It’s a huge country, and I bet there are great players everywhere. The recognition is coming along. It’s going to be great. People are going to soon start loving it, thanks to the World Cup.”

The U.S. team made it through a tough bracket of “group play” by beating Ghana, tying with Portugal and losing by one goal to Germany. The match with Portugal drew 24.7 million viewers in the United States, according to The Associated Press.

The competition ended for the Americans on Tuesday with a 2-1 loss to Belgium. The AP reported that 21.6 million people watched that game on either ESPN or Univision, and nearly 1.7 million viewed an online stream of the event.

But the continued growth of soccer in the United States will develop from larger trends, Reitnour said.

“There’s more participation in the game at the youth level,” the King’s Warriors coach said. “It’s one of the top two, if not the number one, participatory sport in America. I think what you’ll see is kind of a shifting demographic.”

Then there’s a network, or “infrastructure,” for growing new players through levels that present increasing challenges and opportunities for skill development.

“Infrastructure is already here,” Reitnour said. It starts with youth soccer, club and prep soccer, and often continues in college or university programs.

“We’ve got MLS (Major League Soccer), we’ve got a number of different kind of ‘farm systems’ for the MLS. We’re a part of one, in the PDL,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of different opportunities for guys to play above and beyond the collegiate environment.”

“You’ve got youth academies. There’s just tons of opportunities for young players to participate in the sport.”

“Participation, infrastructure and financial resources, those three things were not here 30 years ago to the same magnitude or degree that they are today.

“I don’t see any of those things diminishing,” he said. “I think participation is only going to increase, moving forward.”

“I think seeing the United States go through to the knockout round, being able to get out of ‘the group of death,’ — I think there’s something for young players to look at and say, ‘Man, I have a lot of respect for that.’ It can create admiration and respect for the game.”

He said the performance of the 2014 U.S. World Cup team “was maybe a less-than-aesthetically-pleasing performance, (but) a performance that was competitive, and physically robust ... .”

“I think we’ve played our best soccer when we’re chasing the game, when we’re down a goal and we have to come out and play a little bit. I think that’s when we’ve been our most dynamic.”

Locally, soccer participation is healthy. Young players are becoming more plugged into future chances of development. And financial resources and much labor have gone into the area’s premier soccer facility.

Reitnour said about the activity at East River, “I think that’s a testimony to George (Aiello) and to Hank (Furry). Hank’s relentless pursuit of excellence on the grounds, and George’s desire to see young players play in the game that he loves — those two guys have been pivotal in terms of developing this complex.”

“Then, Dr. (James) Blume (founder and president of the Southern West Virginia soccer club’s parent organization) and the King’s Warriors add a flagship enterprise for some of the young kids to look up to, to provide role models for young players.”

“That’s not just in terms of ability, but in terms of how we conduct ourselves and carry ourselves in front of young people. Hopefully the King’s Warriors are contributing to the growth of the game in southern and Southwest Virginia, and specifically at East River.”

— Contact Tom Bone at; Twitter @BDTBOne

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