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Sports

June 28, 2014

Growing up soccer: 5 stories from American fans

NEW YORK — 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.

MIKE HELFAND

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.

SARAH CURETON

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.

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