The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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June 16, 2014

U.S. ushers in new era of soccer

BECKLEY — Legend has it that the first soccer ball showed up in the United States in the 1850’s, in the gulf coastal region of Louisiana where Scottish, Irish and German immigrants settled.

Tonight, a century and a half later, the Americans, carrying on a tradition that extends from Bethlehem Steel, the New York Cosmos all the way to current day Major League Soccer, take to the pitch in arguably the most soccer crazed country in the world, for its biggest game in four years.

The United States and Ghana meet in the Yanks first match of the 2014 World Cup tonight at 6 p.m., in a must win match for the U.S. if it hopes to move out of the group of death.

When Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and the rest of the United States Men’s National Team stand tonight and sing The Star Spangled Banner, they'll do so with the voices of 300 million people in a choir behind them — from sea to shining sea.

The United States was eliminated in both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups by Ghana, sending shock waves through the landscape of American soccer, leaving many to wonder if American soccer had reached its peak.

With stars like Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra, Kasey Keller and Brian McBride aging or retiring from international soccer, the future was uncertain.

After Jurgen Klinsmann was appointed the new manager following the dismissal of longtime coach Bob Bradley, it ushered in a new era for the stars and stripes, one built on the future instead of relying on the promise of the past.

Here are three things to watch for tonight:

----- Can Jozy Altidore continue what he started against Nigeria?

Altidore's long goal scoring drought came to an end in the final send-off match for the United States, where the New York Red Bulls Academy creation and Sunderland striker scored two goals in the victory. In the absence of Donovan and his now famous heroics, Altidore will be looked to for a big game performance. How better to secure his name in the American history books than by defeating a team that has been a thorn in the side for the United States for eight years?

---- The next generation of stars and stripes.

The 24 year-old Altidore leads a new generation of American players that have grown from the roots planted by the U.S. in the 2002 World Cup. Now is a chance for these younger players to help build a soccer culture in the United States like it has never had. Klinsmann is signed through the 2018 World Cup, and it's evident he has plans for the future, telling the New York Times that it is unrealistic for the United States to win the 2014 games. But with players like Altidore, 19 year-old Julian Green, 21 year-old John Brooks, 23 year-old Aron Johannsson and 23 year-old Mix Diskerud, the 2018 World Cup may be when dreams become realities.

---- The MLS effect.

With so much emphasis put on the European game, Major League Soccer has seen tremendous growth over the last four years. The young U.S. domestic league makes up ten of the 23 men on the U.S. roster, with two of the Yanks most dynamic players -- Dempsey and Bradley -- returning home to MLS in the last year. When the 11 man roster is released before tonight's match it will be interesting to see just how many MLS players are in the starting grid.

— E-mail: jrollins@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.

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