Stephens: Coaches weigh in on World Cup

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By Brad Stephens

At this time of year we’re usually starving for sports.

The U.S. Open, Stanley Cup Final and NBA Finals all ended last weekend. The British Open is a few weeks away, college and pro football camps another few weeks past that.

In most years all we’d have left are NASCAR and the Cincinnati Reds, currently making a charge just to get to .500.

Luckily this is the one year in four where the sports calendar gives us the globe’s biggest sporting event to fill that summer void.

The World Cup started last week in Brazil and runs through the final July 13. You don’t have to be a full-time soccer fan to appreciate the fervor of Colombia’s yellow-clad, stadium-filling fans, the talent of players like Brazil’s Neymar and Argentina’s Lionel Messi and the 90 seconds of musical perfection that is the Italian national anthem.

If you’re looking for more qualified analysis than that, well, you probably won’t find it from me.

But in a place with as much quality soccer as Oldham County, there are some people who know what they’re talking about when it comes to the sport.

I decided to enlist the help of Oldham County boys soccer coach Brian Durbin and South Oldham boys coach Kenny Burke in passing along a little World Cup wisdom.

What makes the World Cup such a special event?

BD: “I think the biggest thing is you bring 32 countries together and at the beginning of it, it’s anybody’s ballgame. Everybody has all that hope and the possibility of winning the World Cup.

“It’s the biggest sporting event in the world on the grandest stage and it doesn’t really get better than that.”

KB: “I have always loved the World Cup. The first World Cup I started paying attention to was in 1986 and got to witness the Diego Maradona “Hand of God” goal as a kid. Since that time every four years has been extremely special for me and my family. It’s an important time for us. Both my kids are really into it.

“We had a neighborhood drawing where everybody got to pick one team. My son has Cameroon and my daughter has Mexico, and they’re cheering against each other. So it’s fun. It’s kind of like the NCAA Tournament for soccer nerds.”

What’s it like watching the World Cup from a coach’s perspective?

BD: "For me I think with each World Cup, it seems like the game evolves... Like a new formation becomes popular. So you look at what different teams play. For me I’m big on how the players are representing their countries now instead of their clubs and the pride that they have in that.

“It’s really cool to see the spirit of the team, the spirit of the fans. I don’t think there’s anything comparable in America. It’s just so big and it’s what everybody waits four years for and it’s finally here, so it’s an exciting time.”

KB: “Sometimes when we watch game films for our teams and everything else, we break it down a lot. This one is just a lot more emotion, it’s a lot more rivalries. Representing your country is a big deal, a big difference. As a coach, it’s one of the only times I get to just sit back and enjoy it and just kind of let it happen instead of trying to analyze it.”

Do you encourage your players to look for anything specific when they’re watching these games?

BD: “I think the biggest thing that youth players pick up on is how these other teams really play and the effort they give. They try to imitate that when they go out and play.

“The thing that makes these guys extremely impressive is how good they are when they get the ball and how quick they make decisions.

“That’s kind of one of those things we always try to teach our players: play fast, make faster decisions. That’s one thing they’re watching. They can see how quick the game goes at that level.”

KB: “I think most of these guys have their own favorite teams and players. With the importance of the clubs that have become bigger and bigger over the years with Barcelona and Manchester United and Liverpool, a lot of these kids cheer for their club teams. Now they can recognize they’re playing with or against some of their opponents from the club season

“... I think the best part about international soccer when you watch it is that each country has its own flavor, its own style. They each have their own method of playing. I think when our kids watch it, that’s what they’ll end up taking from it.

“Not so much that Italy is better than Germany, but that they play a completely different style and it’s fun to watch. Every year it’s the exact same thing.”

Does the United States have any chance of advancing out of the “Group of Death” against Germany, Ghana and Portugal? (Note: this was answered before the Americans’ 2-1 win over Ghana Monday).

BD: “Gosh, I don’t know. There are some people saying they’ll be lucky if they even score a goal in the group stage. They definitely drew the Group of Death and they’ve got three really, really tough games. I think the best chance they have of getting out of the group is going 1-1-1 – getting that win against Ghana and drawing against either Germany or Portugal. We’ll see. There’s always a chance.

“Like I said before, everyone has a chance before the tournament starts. They definitely have a chance to get out of the group. It’ll definitely be a very tough road though.”

KB: “I am cautiously optimistic. I think the United States could get a win against Ghana and then all we’d really have to do is get a draw vs. one of the two other opponents and hope that we can get through. Those two games against Portugal and Germany are going to be monster games.

“I’m not necessarily sure our kids are ready, but the one thing I can say about them is they’re young. They don’t have an agenda. They’re a bunch of nobodies that are trying to earn their spot and earn their right to play and I think that’s going to make them hungry. I think that’s the one thing that’s been missing from the United States the past few World Cups – we were looking at these guys as ‘What did you do for me yesterday?’ as opposed to ‘What can you do for me tomorrow?’

“I think that some of these kids are coming in there hungry and ready to play and I think that’s why we can at least get one win and maybe a draw out of this group... That’s a best case scenario.”

Louisville city officials announced two weeks ago that a minor league pro soccer team, Louisville City FC, will begin play at Louisville Slugger Field in 2015. How will the presence of a pro team help youth and high school soccer in the area?

BD: “My hope, I guess, is that it will be a point in Louisville where we can draw clubs together. Right now on the boys and girls side there are eight or nine clubs, which kind of dilutes the talent pool.

“My hope is that this new team would pull the soccer community together a little bit more in the city of Louisville where you could truly start to get some top-tier teams for our region and even the country, if you could get those teams together, get one single club together and put all the talent where it needs to be... it would never happen. There’s too many egos, but that would be great if that would pan out.”

KB: “Any time that you can go watch a good quality game here in town and you can take your kids and go down and watch it... U of L soccer has been extremely important in recent years, you look at the program and what it’s done, it’s also spurred Kentucky to respond and come back with more talent. Any time that you have something like that it tells everybody else ‘This is the new norm’ and I think that’s important because the kids get to see things from a different perspective, a different speed, a different athletic ability.

“When you go watch those games, you’re going to know ‘I probably need to be training a little bit harder than what I’m doing right now.’ “

Email us about this article at sports@oldhamera.com.