U.S. troops rally for team

July, 16, 2011

FRANKFURT, Germany -- When U.S. takes the field Sunday, the stands will be full of fans -- Germans who have adopted the American team as their own and expats buoyed by the surge of enthusiasm generated by the U.S.'s epic cup performance. There will also be the hundreds of military families and civilians based in Stuttgart who have been following Team USA from the group stages on.

The Stuttgart military base is headquarters for the U.S. military's Africa and Europe operations. It also happens to be the home for some 25,000 people both military and civilian, a community that includes a thriving youth soccer league orchestrated by sports and fitness director Caitlin Smith.

"Some kids, they've been here their whole lives and they don't know the difference, and other kids who are transplants," Smith said. "For them, participating in sports and soccer specifically is like a little touch of home. Soccer is our biggest sport. We have about 1,100 kids in each season and play soccer both seasons.

Nearly 500 Americans from the military community were bused to a practice in Hiedelberg at SG Kirchheim Stadion early in the tournament. "It made me tear up at practice when I saw everyone," said U.S. forward Alex Morgan said in a news conference following the practice. "We loved it. It raised our energy a little bit."

That enthusiasm goes both ways. The military base has hosted public viewings in the Patch Community Club for all the U.S. games -- Sunday's match will include door prizes, signed balls raffled off, a juggling contest, a best-dressed contest and a round of women's soccer trivia. (Sample questions: Who is the all-time leader in goals in the WWC? Birgit Prinz, 14. Who is the all-time leader in goals of the WWC for the U.S.? Michelle Akers, 12). One officer has even taken to YouTube to ask Hope Solo to join him at a miliatary ball in Vienna.

The community center was especially charged during the U.S. versus Brazil match. "I was at the community club and it was packed. They were jumping out of their seats and screaming and yelling," Smith said. "I've never seen that before, especially in women's soccer."

Jaime Lowe played AYSO soccer for eleven years and never scored a goal. She still loves the sport. She has written for ESPN the Magazine and is the author of Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of ODB (Faber & Faber) and a contributor to Fathers & Daughters & Sports (Random House).


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