NEW YORK (AP) — Youth soccer has been popular in the U.S. for more than a generation, and that may be driving high viewer ratings for World Cup games involving the U.S. Here's a look at five people who grew up playing and loving soccer in America, from a woman who played on a boys' team as a kid and now coaches boys' soccer, to a man who named his dogs after World Cup players.
The 42-year-old Chicago attorney has two soccer-playing sons, 8 and 10, and coaches youth leagues. His own parents signed him up when he was 5.
"They're not very sports-minded people. It's just what you did. Every kid I knew played soccer and baseball," he said. "For me and a lot in my generation, we stumbled into it and fell in love by accident."
While he doesn't own a jersey or paint his face, Helfand has seen the U.S. team play in person 16 times, traveling as far away as Australia and Ireland.
He's amazed how far the sport has come in the United States. "Walking down the street now, you see kids wearing Manchester United jerseys and Chelsea Football Club jerseys and Barcelona, and I didn't even know what those were as a kid. I didn't know who the best players were in Europe," Helfand said.
He loved the go-go nature of the game compared to other sports.
"I was a hyper child and the idea of playing in the infield much less the outfield in baseball, and just standing there waiting for something to happen or waiting for your turn to bat, never really appealed to me," he said.
Cureton, 30, of Bealeton, Virginia, started playing when she was 4, introduced to the game by her older brother. Now, she's a rare female coach of a varsity boys' soccer team, at Patriot High School in Nokesville, Virginia.
"I was in gymnastics when my brother was in soccer and his team used to let me play with them. I hated wearing leotards," she said.
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Cureton often played on boys' teams. There was no all-girls soccer team, but the two or three girls who made the boys' teams faced resistance.
"Boys were very threatened by it. It would be a lot of teasing. It was, 'You must be a boy.' It never affected me. I just wanted to play soccer," she said.
Cureton went to George Mason University on a soccer scholarship but stopped playing competitively after college, partly due to injuries.
"I had nine concussions between 14 and 21. If there were concussion baseline tests now I would have never played in college," she said.
Garcia, 52, was 16 when he moved to New York City from Bogota, Colombia.
"Oh my god, playing soccer is all we did. We'd play soccer waiting for the bus. We'd play soccer in the classrooms, in the hallways. We'd come home and play in the rain," he said.
But in the U.S., the soccer-crazed teen from Colombia could barely find a game.
"In the Bronx there was a park near where we lived where some Europeans played. Me and my brother used to play there a lot. Everybody was playing football and basketball and baseball," Garcia said. "I lost a little bit of the drive to play when we came here."
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