By Jay Young
Turning on ESPN over the past few weeks, it almost feels like you are living in a different country.
It's quite a turn of events to see Kobe Bryant on the screen as a patron at the World Cup, instead of on Friday's list of top-10 plays.
Despite all of the controversy that has built up to FIFA's worldwide tournament, you have to admit one thing-the World Cup is helping soccer in America.
Jurgen Klinsmann and team USA have made it through two games without a loss in the "Group of Death," and back at home soccer fans are loving every minute.
Now Klinsmann will face off against his home country with everything on the line, and you couldn't write a better story than that.
"In itself with the World Cup being here now, it is doing what the (women's Cup) did back in '99," said Chris Sage of Randolph. "It is allowing all of these (youth) programs to make slight changes and push kids up from the lower levels."
A native of Randolph, Sage recently moved back to his hometown from New Jersey and has now taken over as director of coaching for the Randolph Youth Soccer Association.
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Since making the move, Sage has made it his goal to push the program in a direction that stresses fundamental development as well as recreation.
"Yeah, there is an elevated level of excitement. Not so much a new interest, but a rekindled interest, yes," said Barb Sage, who is now the president of RYSA."We are restructuring our coaching system to more of a tiered coaching style. There will be an introduction, training, and development program. We are trying to change it from a recreational program to a more structured, learning environment.''
The World Cup excitement has given the Sages the perfect opportunity to make the changes they want in RYSA.
"It is easier this year to ask people to change their program with the World Cup being on the stage," Chris said. "I'm proposing these new methods that people are seeing on TV, so people seem a little more receptive to it."
While many coaches would like to see the World Cup boost registration numbers for youth soccer programs, the changes that are happening seem to be helping the players that already enjoy the sport.
"The World Cup is good. It is gathering all the headlines right now, so everyone is noticing it, and that is just good for soccer," said Steve Hatfield, secretary of Falconer Area Soccer Teams. "Maybe people watching start to get an idea of the rules and how the game is played. Hopefully, people will see that and try and catch a game sometime."
One of the most important parts of this year's World Cup is the relevancy of the United States.
Entering the tournament, no one gave the Americans much of a chance to advance through group play.
Now that Klinsmann's team has exceeded expectations, perhaps even his own, people are beginning to pay attention.
"The better we do at the World Cup, the better it is for soccer back here in the U.S.," Hatfield said.