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Campers join NU staff for U.S.-Algeria

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Evan Just could be mistaken for a 50-year-old man the way he described watching the United States' last-minute win over Algeria on Wednesday.

"It made my heart stop," Just exclaimed.

It's a saying one would expect from someone who has been around the block a few times. That isn't Just, though. He's actually 11. He just felt like he was 50 on Wednesday.

The United States' game toyed with the emotions of the young and old on Wednesday morning when nearly 100 grade-school campers and Northwestern's men's soccer staff packed the Nicolet Center's auditorium on the Wildcats' campus to watch the game.

In the back of his mind, Northwestern coach Tim Lenahan feared that the youngsters' attention might stray quickly from a 90-plus-minute match. The campers proved they were beyond their years, though. Lenahan would later remark what a great experience it was to watch the game with them.

Wearing national team jerseys and painted faces, chanting "U-S-A", singing along during the national anthem and living and dying with every goal opportunity, the kids showed they are as big of fans as anyone in the building.

When Clint Dempsey's goal was disallowed after he was questionably called offsides in the first half, the campers became enraged. More than half of them jumped off their seats and yelled at the television screen. They threw their arms out and grabbed their heads in disbelief.

At halftime, 9-year-old Ben Sollinger walked up to Lenahan to share his opinion of the play.

"Coach, we should be up 1-0," Sollinger said. "That was a goal. He's wasn't offside."

The second half was more of the same for the campers. Their emotions were built up by numerous scoring chances, but ultimately they were crushed when the ball seemed to find everywhere other than the net.

While the optimism of most adults likely faded as the final minutes approached, the kids never lost hope.

"I could feel it," Sollinger said after game. "I don't know how. I just felt it."

That feeling was rewarded when Landon Donovan delivered a stoppage-time winner. As Donovan's ball flew into the net, the auditorium erupted in excitement. Kids got on stage and jumped around. They hugged each other. They even pulled out a few vuvuzela horns.

"It was crazy, absolutely crazy," Sollinger said. "I was blowing my vuvuzela and was standing on the chair and yelling as loud as I can."

The rollercoaster of emotion was too much for Just, as he would later say, but it was all completely worth it.

"It was a lot of fun," Just said. "We had a great time, and we brought the U.S. home a win."

Scott Powers is covering the World Cup locally for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.