Steve Wallace, the transplanted Englishman and soccer junkie who drives the CDO Soccer Club, wants to foster "the growth of American soccer culture."
It's happening, even though America's run in the world's biggest sporting event ended Saturday, when Ghana beat the U.S. 2-1 in loser-out World Cup overtime.
Wallace watched the U.S.-Slovenia game at a Tucson, er, pub. He might have expected expatriates, college kids and a handful of Americans to join him.
Instead, the place was packed … with Americans.
"I was the only foreign guy in there, and it was brilliant," Wallace said. "The atmosphere was incredible. When the U.S. scored the equalizer, the place went absolutely loopy."
There was a certain loopiness on the fields behind Wilson K-8 School last Thursday, when young CDO Soccer Club players and coaches paced through a 100-degree evening.
One wore an oversized Uncle Sam hat on the playing field. Plenty of young women had red, white and blue face paint. USA colors were on bandanas and shirts.
Sarah Hefferan, 14, a midfielder who played at Ironwood Ridge this season, got decked out in U.S. colors Thursday "to support our team." The Americans' 1-0 win over Algeria in group play Wednesday "was very exciting." She yelled out loud when Landon Donovan scored the goal that sent the U.S. to the knock-out round.
Donovan may be America's first genuine soccer star. He is "the epitome of what these kids can look up to," Wallace said. "He went to Europe and failed at first."
The World Cup "gets me up off my seat and makes me try," Hefferan said. She's encouraged that the CDO Soccer Club deploys formations, skills and tactics on display at the World Cup. "The knowledge of soccer we have learned is similar to what they show," Hefferan said. "They've just perfected it."
"The World Cup is the perfect backdrop for me," Wallace said.
Jessie Nelson, 13, plays on the CDO Pumas squad that was fifth in Arizona last season. Watching the World Cup "makes me want to get into college, and if I can, into the pros," she said.
Nelson is impressed with the way World Cup players "are more calm than panicked," and with how they communicate, spread the field, use square and back passes.
It's the response coaches like Wallace and Mike Kevershan, five years with the CDO Soccer Club, are seeking. When his daughters watch the World Cup, "it does sink in," Kevershan said. "They will comment on the stuff Steve and the rest of the coaching staff tries to emphasize, width, depth, possession. You can see the switch come on a little bit.
"Steve grew up living soccer, breathing soccer," Kevershan said. "He's a good teacher of coaches, and he's a good teacher of kids. He does a very good job with kids in the Northwest."
In the summer, CDO Soccer Club players ages 9-16 take to the field five nights a week for six weeks. Each night has a different emphasis. Monday is a day of "free play."
"I tell the parents, 'don't even bother watching. Read a book. The kids aren't being analyzed. They just play. They need to have time, to try it and solve their own problems," Wallace said.
In season, there are nearly 400 boys and girls, competing at all age and skill levels, on 30 teams. Wallace wants everyone to "really, really enjoy the game."
"It's not just about the competitive end," said Wallace. "Our mission is to develop youth soccer players. It's about taking a player and finding out where they want to go in the game, and how to get them there. We have some very motivated players." Among the alumni — recent CDO High School stalwarts Nick Marshall and Donny Toia.
Others "just want to play. Some teams are completely recreational. Most are somewhat of a mix. Others are highly competitive.
"We strive to win," Wallace said. "But let's focus on performing to the best of our ability."
"If you play your hardest, it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, you know you played your best," Nelson said. "But winning is better."
Wallace gathers his troops at the end of practice, and asks players to put a hand up if they didn't watch any World Cup games that day. Two or three might be honest enough to admit no viewing. "They get mock-booed, in jest," Wallace said.
"The past couple years really got me into soccer," Hefferan said. "When you love it, and have an interest in it, it makes you want to play that much harder. I'm going to introduce my kids to it, if I ever have kids."
"I hope I'm still around to see this generation come to my age, and see their own kids go through it," Wallace said.