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YOUTH OFFER HOPE FOR U.S. SOCCER

SHARE YOUTH OFFER HOPE FOR U.S. SOCCER

By now, nearly everyone has seen the on-the-street interviews and read the pollsters. The facts are clear. Americans couldn't care less about the World Cup, the planet's biggest sporting spectacle happening right under their noses.

But Utahns, particularly young Utahns, may be different - and that bodes well for the future of the sport.If soccer is gaining a foothold anywhere in the United States, it is among the young. Millions of children under 12 are active in leagues from Maine to California. Utah, a state with more than its share of children, is no exception.

Evidence suggests the youth of this state don't abandon the sport as quickly as others when they hit teenage years. The popularity of the state's annual high school soccer competition, which attracts local media attention to both girls' and boys' teams, is a testament to this.

These players and their parents understand the enormous honor it is for the United States to host the World Cup. They understand that residents of the participating nations are every bit as excited about their teams as U.S. basketball fans were about the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics. Each participating nation is fielding a team comprising its best professional players.

Perhaps American indifference is due to the lack of professional leagues and superstars here. Perhaps it is due to the dearth here of the traditions and history that bind people to soccer in other nations.

Or perhaps Americans are cool to any sport in which their team isn't expected to dominate against the rest of the world. Unlike Olympic basketball, U.S. players won't don cocky smiles as they push aside less adroit teams.

But as the world grows smaller, this indifference likely will disappear. And the rising generation of Utahns, some of whose members already make kicks and headers a part of each weekend, can be expected to play a big role in that change.