East Texas Connection to World Cup

by admin | June 29, 2014 9:55 am

I admit that soccer is not high on my list of spectator sports, particularly on television. No doubt watching a World Cup match or a game of that caliber in person would be a different story. My middle daughter, now 32, played for a time when she was about 8. Her enthusiasm was minimal, matched by her skill. Mere was more interested in picking flowers and daydreaming, though occasionally she would kick the ball along if it came her way and wasn’t too much of a bother. We retired Mere’s jersey after a season, soured a bit by some of the parents who screamed at their kids as if this indeed were the World Cup and not a bunch of pig-tailed girls just having fun.

Our youngest daughter, Abbie, is quite a soccer fan primarily because of some of the good-looking men playing at the elite levels. At 16, she swoons at hunks like Cristiano Renaldo, the Portuguese star. As a result, she knows much more about the game and which teams are dominant on the global scene than I ever will. She amazes me spouting off statistics and results, even when it isn’t World Cup season.

Like many East Texans, I have taken a keen interest in this year’s World Cup because of a strong Piney Woods connection. Clint Dempsey, the team captain and an international star, is from Nacogdoches. That is where he first learned his soccer skills under longtime high school coach Farshid Niroumand. Niroumand also serves as athletic director, which is unusual. That job usually goes to the head football coach in these parts.

But Niroumand, who has been at Nac for three decades, is that highly regarded. Three years ago he resigned after the board reassigned him because he had punished some football players who showed up drunk at a homecoming dance. Some parents complained, and he was reassigned and subsequently quit. The backlash was so great that Niromaund soon was reinstated. Dempsey was interviewed by a number of television stations and expressed his support for his mentor and former coach.

I was running the Daily Sentinel in Nacogdoches when Dempsey was in high school and launching his storied career. Niroumand was a familiar sight in our office, coming in to visit with longtime sports editor Kevin Gore. Dempsey’s exploits often made the sports page then, and the newspaper has avidly followed his career since. Now Nacogdoches residents understandably are watching this year’s World Cup probably more closely than last season’s Super Bowl, and for good reason.

In the first match against Ghana, Dempsey acquitted himself well, scoring a goal just 34 seconds into the match, a World Cup record. In the heartbreaking tie Sunday against Portugal, our family spent the match on the edges of our seats. Dempsey tied the game at one-apiece with a terrific shot off his chest. As the seconds ticked away and USA led 2-1, we were breathing sighs of relief.

Then Portugal scored in the waning seconds to tie the game, leaving USA fans stunned as the clock ran out. As my heart beat wildly and I grew short of breath, I began to understand at least a bit of the passion so many feel for the game. I talked to a fellow in town the other day who just got back from watching his eighth World Cup. Considering the games only come around every four years, that is true dedication.

Work prevented me from watching the United States vs. Germany Thursday morning, but I was thrilled that, despite the 1-0 loss, the team is advancing to the so-called knockout stage. How that works is a bit beyond me. I don’t understand everything I know about this, as they say, but I plan rooting on Dempsey and his teammates as they continue their improbable march against another dark horse, Belgium. Even the United States’ own coach — who before the games started said the team had no chance of winning it all — is beginning to sound like a believer.

So am I.


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