State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

World Cup Kicks Up Interest in Area Youth Soccer Programs

by and on July 07, 2014 2:45 PM

Make no mistake about it, the World Cup is having an impact in our area.

Sure, there's the financial impact. Whether it's fans showing up in droves at bars to watch the games or hitting sporting goods stores to buy soccer apparel, local businesses are reaping the benefits of World Cup fever.

Local youth soccer organizations are also feeling the effects.

Danny Orton, president of Penn United Soccer Academy, says the World Cup has gotten younger players even more interested in the game.

"It's hard to say what kind of impact it's going to have as far as numbers are concerned," Orton says. "But these are good games and it adds some excitement to the sport. This is what we want, what we need. We want to grow the sport. This definitely helps."

Penn United is one of the fastest-growing youth soccer organizations in the area. It features travel teams, rec squads, overnight camps, day camps and weekly skill sessions.

Orton has played soccer since he was a youngster and he's as passionate as they come. Seeing the World Cup get so big gives him a sense of pride.

"It's been fantastic. There's definitely a bandwagon effect, which is wonderful," Orton says.

Matt Vidic, president of the Centre Soccer Association, agrees.

"There was a buzz from the Ghana-Portugal game," Vidic explains. "We had a camp running ... we didn't do anything special to promote it and we had a dozen or so late sign-ups, which was kind of significant."

Centre Soccer's spring season ended just a few weeks ago, so Vidic doesn't know what kind of registration numbers CSA will have come fall. He expects numbers to rise, thanks in part to the World Cup.

"The World Cup is the highest level for the sport. It's hard to think of another sport that has such a global impact. These games impact everyone. You're talking about teams from Centre Soccer to the local Mountain District to PA West to U.S. Youth Soccer to U.S. Soccer all the way up to FIFA. It's like a gigantic network. The World Cup definitely helps our numbers," Vidic says.

This year's World Cup games are more accessible than ever before. ESPN is carrying multiple games and highlight packages air around the clock on SportsCenter.

According to Lisa Cole, the technical director for the Centre Soccer Association, having the games available on television, laptops, tablets and smartphones has made it easier than ever before to see the games.

"For a long time, I felt like the powers that be in television kept (soccer) out," Cole says. "I can remember having to get up early and paying just to watch soccer. That's not the case anymore. It's out there, it's available to everyone and that's great for our younger players."

For the United States-Germany contest last week, CSA organized a "watch party" at Damon's Grill in State College.

More than 300 people turned out including youth players from one of CSA's summer camps.

"We had some very young players, some U-10 players there to watch. It's important for them to see it. They're getting engaged early," Cole says. "They didn't watch the entire game; it's hard to get kids to watch anything for 90 minutes. But they got to see some really good soccer. It was a great experience."

Younger players are more interested in the game than ever before. Penn State men's soccer coach Bob Warming credits social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

"Social media has been important. We're now just barely behind the NFL ... from the ages of 12 to 22, (soccer) is the second most popular sport in the country. That was before the World Cup. That demographic get their information from Twitter and other forms of social media. It's just blown up," Warming says.

Warming points out that the games are easier to watch than ever before. After traveling around the globe for several World Cups, he decided to sit this one out. Like Cole, Warming agrees that the television coverage is better than ever.

"HD really changed things," Warming explains. "Our sport was not really good to watch on a traditional television. The distances are too great. Instead of going to the World Cup with a lot of my buddies this year, I bought a Sony 4K TV. The clarity is beyond belief."

Warming believes the extensive television coverage will impact registration numbers come fall. More people watching equals more children on the soccer field.

"You've got 35-year-olds watching. They've got young children," Warming says. "You can't really begin to imagine the impact that's going to have. They're going to put their 5-, 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds in youth soccer. It's remarkable."

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Chris Morelli is the managing editor of The Centre County Gazette.
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