WILKES-BARRE — With about 10 minutes remaining until the official start of voluntary conditioning sessions for Meyers soccer, only about a third of the players were ready to start at the soccer field on Gordon Avenue.
Sure there are some players who were playing in an American Legion baseball game for Wilkes-Barre, but the majority of those missing were home watching the United States’ World Cup opener against Ghana on Monday night.
Boys varsity coach Jack Nolan said he set the date months ago and when he did that, he wasn’t paying attention to the World Cup schedule. So he was recording the match and watched when he got home after the session wrapped up.
Shortly after 6 p.m., which is when Clint Dempsey scored the U.S.’ first goal, more players showed up to get in top shape for the upcoming high school soccer season, which starts on Friday, Aug. 29. But the 30-plus athletes running still missed the opening goal.
“I’d be at home watching the game,” Meyers junior Austin Bynon said when asked where he’d rather be instead of working up a sweat on a hot night by running and doing stretches.
However, the players were likely home in front of their televisions in time to see the Americans’ dramatic 2-1 victory on a goal from John Brooks to score their first win over Ghana in the last three World Cup meetings. So missing the opening minutes was well worth it, especially to improve their own individual game.
“It’s more personal. If I don’t condition then when the season comes I won’t be in shape to play,” Meyers junior Kyle Zelinka said.
The U.S. will now face Portugal on Sunday — with no conditioning drills scheduled for the Mohawks — in its second match of Group G action in what some are considering the toughest draw of all eight. Germany, a heavy favorite, defeated Portugal 4-0 before Monday’s U.S. victory. With the mental aspect of finally overcoming Ghanians, the Americans could be on their way to reaching the knockout round.
“I think what happened with Germany and Portugal will give the United States a little bit of confidence because Germany certainly handled Portugal well,” Nolan said. “Not that I think the United States will have an easy time against Germany, but I think they probably saw they can hang around with Portugal moreso than they did coming into the game.”
On the other hand, according to Zelinka other countries focus more on the sport than the United States. That, he says, puts the Americans in the underdog role.
“I personally believe that the United States isn’t really a soccer country. They care more about basketball and stuff like that,” he said. “Countries in Africa, like Ghana, they worry about soccer a lot. That’s their main sport so America has a disadvantage in that. So that’s why it’s kinda hard for them.”
The voluntary conditioning drills for high school soccer programs are held throughout the summer with mandatory practices beginning on Aug. 11.