Stuttgart gets World Cup fever

For Stuttgart soccer enthusiasts, June 30 presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation transported more than 200 community members to Heidelberg June 30 to watch the U.S. Women’s National Team practice,  part of a plethora of events focused on the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany.

“It’s definitely awesome to be so close to the Women’s National Team in Germany,” said Nichole Rios, 17, part of the Patch High School varsity soccer team.

“We’re, like, taking notes on their drills and how to use them next year,” she added.

“It’s a good opportunity for all of us to see the best soccer there is,” seconded her teammate, Caroline Rivera.

The open practice at the SG Kirchheim stadium was for Americans affiliated with the U.S. military to interact with players and get autographs. More than 500 Americans from several military communities attended.

The practice followed the U.S. team’s first game, a 2-0 victory against North Korea on June 28, and built excitement for U.S. game against Columbia in Sinsheim July 2, which the U.S. won 3-0, advancing them to the quarterfinals.

“They’re playing really good. I can’t wait for Saturday,” said 8-year-old John Ramirez, from Stuttgart.

During the practice, Ramirez had his eye on the team’s goalkeepers, since he plays goalie for one of USAG Stuttgart’s Child, Youth and School Services soccer teams.

“I look at the goalies a lot,” he said, observing that they didn’t just stay in the goal box: “They jump out of the box and catch the ball.”

Gavin Shaw, 11, who also plays on a CYS Services soccer team in Stuttgart, was inspired to try a few of the players’ moves himself. “I think it’s pretty cool, watching all their tricks and how they pass [the ball] around,” he said.

Seeing so many supporters at the practice was an encouragement to WNT members, including Alex Morgan, a forward. “It made me tear up today at practice when I saw everyone,” she said in a press conference following the practice. “We loved it. It raised our energy a little bit.”

Heather O’Reilly, midfielder, encouraged young soccer players watching the World Cup to pursue their own soccer dreams.

“In 1999 [at the Women’s World Cup] I was also a kid in the stands as a fan,” she said. “I was 14, and I was awestruck seeing these superstars play. Three years later, at 17, I made the team and was able to play alongside some of my idols.

“You just have to believe in yourself. There are no limits on what you can do.”

Following the official practice, team captain Christie Rampone thanked the military members and their families for supporting the team and serving the country. “We’re very proud of what you’re doing for us, and we’re going to make you proud throughout the World Cup,” she said.

And they did: in the quarter final game against Brazil July 10, after a 2-2 tie, the U.S. team defeated Brazil in a shoot out (winning five penalty kicks versus Brazil’s three). The game advanced the team to the semifinals against France July 13.

In addition to taking community members to the practice June 30, Stuttgart’s Family and MWR hosted viewing parties for each U.S. game at the Patch Community Club and raffled off tickets to the semi-final and final games.

Between tickets to games and the free practice, Family MWR management intern John Hamilton said the opportunity for Stuttgart residents to see the Women’s National Team was “phenomenal.”

“Even back in the States, you’re not guaranteed to get a chance to see them play,” Hamilton said. “It’s the kind of scenario that you just can’t pass up, in my mind.”