World Cup gets attention of locals

While the World Cup wages in Brazil and the U.S. team looks for a win against Germany at noon today, interest in the “beautiful game” is building locally.

An annual soccer camp for children ages 5 to 15 held daily this week at Penn State Altoona coincides with World Cup play. While the World Cup is discussed and certainly a thought, it is not a dominant theme of the camp.

“We try to focus on fundamentals while having fun,” said Patrick “Moe” Taylor, who has supervised the camp for five years and is men’s soccer coach at Penn State Altoona.

Different skills are stressed each day. Monday through Thursday, campers learn dribbling, defense, shooting and passing. On Friday, campers will play their own version of the World Cup, where participants will be divided into teams and choose nations to play as, Taylor said.

Besides that, nothing special will be done because of the World Cup.

As usual, instruction will run from 9 a.m. to noon today, when the U.S.-Germany game begins. The young players are encouraged to watch the game, but Taylor said they won’t stop early for it.

“Just another day of camp,” he said.

Although it seems more interest is generated during World Cup years, Taylor said that is not always the case.

The camp has about 60 participants this year but drew more than 70 in 2013.

Taylor attributed the slight decrease to the extended school year causing conflicts in scheduling between his camp and other summer activities.

Taylor, who has been involved with soccer in Altoona since emigrating from Jamaica in 1995, coaches the sport from the youth to the collegiate level. There are now more than 400 kids in local soccer programs.

He said participation has steadily increased every year, whether it is a World Cup year or not.

The games have left an impression on local business, with sporting goods and sports merchandise retailers stocking World Cup merchandise, and bars and restaurants showing the games.

Dick’s Sporting Goods at Logan Town Centre has a World Cup specific section, with commemorative and official game balls and apparel on display. Italy, Mexico, Germany, Argentina and of course, U.S. shirts and jerseys hang on the walls.

Ironically, the only American player whose name and number adorn the back of U.S. jerseys at the Altoona location is Landon Donovan. He was not selected for the 2014 squad.

Spain merchandise is also available at the store. It is marked down 50 percent, a reminder that the defending world champions have already been eliminated from contention.

The selection at Dunham’s Sporting Goods is much smaller, limited to an endcap attached to its regular soccer aisle.

Managers at both stores were unable to comment on how well the merchandise has been received or selling.

Shenk and Tittle in Logan Valley Mall also has a display of World Cup merchandise. Manager Jeff Beach said the goods have been in stock for more than a month. They have not needed to order more but have sold out of some styles. Shirts have sold the best, especially those for the U.S. team.

“As much red, white and blue you can have, the better,” Beach said.

High school and college-age males have showed the most interest in buying World Cup goods, Beach said, but there has been little interest from older male, female and youth customers.

Zach’s Sports and Spirits at 58th Street and Sixth Avenue shows the games, and assistant manager Shaun McIntyre said people have been coming in to watch all of the games, with those involving the U.S. team drawing the biggest crowds and some patrons wearing U.S. apparel.

Tim James, owner of Argonne Cafe in Hollidaysburg, has been running specials for the World Cup and said people have been coming in to watch all of the games during lunch hours.

The most people show up when the national team plays. The crowds during U.S. games have been “passionate,” James said, and drawn more patrons than a local sports favorite.

“For the game Sunday versus Portugal, it was more packed than it is during Steelers’ games,” James said.

Both James and McIntyre expect the game today to draw a bigger lunch crowd than usual, but nothing like the weekend games.

Meanwhile, as the present stars of U.S. soccer prepare to take the pitch more than 4,000 miles away, potential future team members will be honing their skills this morning at Spring Run Stadium.

While soccer campers performed drills and played games Wednesday, Taylor smiled and pointed to a boy wearing the number 33. He looked smaller than children he was grouped with. Jace Black is 6 years old, Taylor explained, and proficient enough to play with 9-year-olds.

He wears his cleats continuously and already possesses a passion for the game, a constant desire to play, Taylor said.

Taylor has been around the game long enough to see the real deal, he said, and he sees it there.

“That’s the future right there,” Taylor said. “That’s the future of U.S. soccer.”